Trent Stetler Play Day Raises Mental Health Awareness in Philadelphia


Former Haverford High (Pa.) lacrosse player Trent Stetler committed suicide Jan. 11, 2015.

This article appears in the Eastern Mid-Atlantic version of the July/August edition. Don’t get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription.

There was a ton of lacrosse played during the fifth-annual Trent Stetler Play Day at Haverford High in the Philadelphia suburbs April 13. Players came from across the area to scrimmage, learn at a free clinic from Lasalle University women’s coach Candace Bossell, and even get a chance to meet the Saint Joseph’s Hawk mascot.

But it was a moment that occurred away from the field, on Facebook after the games had ended, that really resonated with those who organized the event.

A local girls’ lacrosse player sent a message saying she had struggled with mental health her entire life. After attending the Play Day, she finally felt encouraged to speak up about it. She was no longer afraid to ask for help. 

That’s the whole point. There was indeed a ton of lacrosse played that day. But the Trent Stetler Play Day is bigger than lacrosse.

Stetler played many sports, but lacrosse was his true love. The Stetlers were the quintessential Haverford family with the net in their backyard, the neighbor on one side who would stop by regularly to return the balls that missed the net and sailed over his fence and the neighbor on the other side with the broken garage window from another ball that had sailed even farther.

Stetler’s birthday fell at the end of May. One year, his family surprised him with at trip to the NCAA tournament. His favorite team was Virginia. He idolized Matt Ward. He was a happy kid. Funny. A midfielder, the Fords’ faceoff guy and MVP his senior year.

Stetler was always able to put the game in perspective. He never dwelled on a missed play or a lost game. He would shake off the losses so quickly that it sometimes frustrated his coaches. He was the first one to reach out to a new player and make him feel a part of the team.

When Stetler took his own life, no one saw it coming. He died Jan. 11, 2015. A junior at Elon University at the time, he was 20.

“People look at us and say, ‘If it happened to them, it can happen to anyone,’” said Denette Stetler, Trent’s mother.

The Stetlers had no idea their son was struggling.

“We sat him down and gave him the anti-drug talk,” she said. “We never talked to him about mental health.”

The goal of Trent Stetler Play Day is to change that. To raise awareness of mental health and decrease the stigma. To get people to open up. To let kids like Trent, and their parents, know that it’s OK to tell someone if you’re not OK.

“The message,” Denette Stetler said, “is to just talk.”

At the Trent Stetler Play Day, there’s plenty of lacrosse. There’s also a local man who brings his “Herbie the Love Bug”-style Volkswagen Beetle that has the phrase “Drive Out Suicide” emblazoned across the back of it. There are tables with representatives from the suicide hotline, as well as concussion experts from a local hospital. In high school, and again playing college rugby at Elon, Stetler suffered concussions, some of which he did not tell his parents about. They wonder what impact that had on his mental health.

Money raised during the event goes to providing speakers in the schools and also in the greater Havertown community. Because it’s not just about kids. Parents need to know it’s OK to talk about it, too. Money raised also goes to a memorial scholarship given to the two Haverford lacrosse players, one boy and one girl, who best embody Trent’s traits: inclusion, leadership, maximum effort, humor and perspective. 

Trent Stetler was known as someone who made everyone feel included. The play day reflects this. What started as a small event for Haverford boys has expanded in just five years to host boys’ and girls’ teams, from kindergarten to high school, from Chester County all the way to inner city Philadelphia. Eyekonz, a US Lacrosse Diversity and Inclusion Grant recipient that provides field hockey and lacrosse programming for African-American boys and girls age 5-15, participated in the play day.

And through it all, organizers make sure to tell Trent’s story.

On the night before the playday, the Stetlers speak to Haverford players about Trent and let them know it’s OK to talk. When it was over this year, a coach reminded them that they’re not alone.

“We’re a team,” he said. “We look out for each other.” 

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