Courtesy: Sylvan Lake Gulls


The discussion around mental health issues has been in the spotlight more in recent years, but the light got more intense with the arrival of COVID-19.

Sadly, there was no shortage of stories surrounding people dealing with dark thoughts and some failing to get out of their troubles alive. But, these stories are moments when we can and should talk about mental health and remove the stigma-somewhat.

It’s an issue which hit very close to home for 20-year-old Cooper Jones of the Western Canadian Baseball League Sylvan Lake Gulls.

Jones spent time growing up in both Ponoka and Red Deer playing minor sports. Last fall his close friend in Ponoka Sam Neath, passed away. While the circumstances of his death are still not crystal clear, Jones and his friends believe it was likely by his own hand. Shocking news to deal with at such a young age.

“I was living in Ponoka with my buddies, and I came out into the room, and everyone was crying, and I was like, what’s going on? Somebody told me and I broke down, went back to my room and cried for hours, obviously. I was in shock,” he said. “The first day it’s weird because you don’t know how to react. I feel like I should be crying but you’re not, then you do.”

He readily admits having his friends right there was a huge boost as they lifted each other up while dealing with such a tragedy.

“When it happened, everyone contacted everyone else to make sure they were okay.”

Jones met his friend during Ponoka’s Blackhawk Hockey School and they bonded almost right away. It was one of those connections where you immediately feel a friendship could be cultivated.

“He was just super out there. He didn’t care what anybody said. Whatever. He just wanted to have fun and always had a smile on his face.”

This is what makes his death all the more troubling for Jones. Here was this young, free spirit athlete with so much more of the world ahead of him than behind. Then the second guessing began for him.

“It did wear on me. What was wrong? What was so bad? You don’t understand. That is the most unfortunate part of it. You don’t understand what he was going through.”

It is a situation which has been happening too often and pulls back the curtain on just how little we really know about mental health issues. Jones say you hear about these situations involving his age group but until it permeates your own circle of friends you are basically in the dark.

“When that happens, you think about it, and I wish he would have done this, and I wish we would have done this. We talked about that and that was the biggest thing. Nobody shied away and if somebody did, you’d go over there and talk to them.”

In honour of his buddy Jones wears a band around his wrist. It was something the group of friends were eager to do, and they passed them out to as many people as they could. For him, it’s a constant reminder of their friendship and who Sam was.

“Every at bat I look at it and it’s just a quick little thought about him. That’s all I need.”

He said he can see himself talking to athletes younger than him about the subject, more so along the lines of how it can affect other people and how he handled the loss of Sam.

“Those things happen, and the biggest thing is find a way to work through it in your own way.”

Keep the talk going and at the very least there is value in discussion which may just lead to some answers.