High school lacrosse coach Juan Gaytan and his players were devastated after team captain Nate Cowsert, 18, took his own life on a Sunday evening in January 2018.
Six months later, their heartbreak doubled when another popular teammate, Jeremy Shipp, also killed himself. He was 16.
Gaytan and his team of 30 players at Box Elder High School in the rural northern Utah community of Brigham City were overwhelmed with grief and scared that there could be more tragedy. They knew it was not uncommon for suicides to cluster, for one person’s suicide to prompt another. Gaytan couldn’t let another tragedy happen on his team.
“I kept asking myself, ‘Why didn’t I see what I needed to see?’ ” said Gaytan, 41, a volunteer head coach whose son Brandyn, 16, also plays on the team.
He vowed to take action. After soul searching, Gaytan decided what he needed to do was connect with the boys. Not just as their coach — he went on a mission to understand them emotionally. But as he soon learned, it’s not that easy with teenage boys.
So when a new school year started in the fall, Gaytan, who was in his third year as lacrosse coach for the Box Elder Bees, started making monthly home visits to every boy on his team. Even the ones who seemed fine.
As first reported by the Salt Lake Tribune, he began inviting those who were feeling down or having problems at school to join him for outings to get hamburgers or pizza and just talk. He’d show them his emotions, hoping to show them that it’s okay to talk about such things.
He even asked them to read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning,” and write essays about how Frankl’s experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II could help them in their own lives.
Then Gaytan recruited assistant coaches with counseling experience to help out at practice, and he added each player’s name to a group text so that everyone could communicate any time, day or night…….
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