HOLLAND – When the Zeeland East and Holland High School girls soccer teams face each other, they normally have Chix and Dutch written across their uniforms, but on Tuesday, both teams had the same name: Be Nice.
The teams hosted a Be Nice game to raise awareness for mental health at the Holland soccer complex, something extremely importnant in all communities, but especially high schoolers.
“It was a game of soccer, and we care about that, but we care about this more. It is a lot bigger than us. It is huge (that mental health is being recognized in high school). It would have been dissed and not as recognized in the past,” Zeeland East’s Lainey Canan said. “A lot of times, people keep it to themselves because they are not sure it could be shared and recognized as normal, especially our age. But at our age, a majority of people go through it and feel like they can’t say anything. This is a way to help normalize it and let people know they are in a safe space, especially in a team setting.”
And every team has its own struggles, which Be Nice helps bring to the forefront, especially with athletes who understandably think people think of them as tough, and therefore are more reluctant to show what they perceive as a sign of weakness.
But it isn’t weakness at all.
“Sometimes athletes think they have to put a superhero cape on. But a lot of times, it is the silent battles that are so tough,” Zeeland East coach Joe Grit said. “We found on our soccer team, we have a lot of girls with silent battles and we are trying to surround them with love and let them know we are here for them. So to be able to play a game on a beautiful night with both teams representing Be Nice and doing it together, was huge. I think of the fans and also the middle school players who look up to these girls. What an opportunity to see these stud players representing Be Nice.
“It is a big deal. There are a lot of people and a lot of athletes who sometimes struggle silently. We are trying to encourage that we, as a soccer team, and with what Be Nice represents, we are here for you in a safe space to be able to talk.”
The Chix won the game 5-1 with two goals from Macie Moore, one from Paige Westra, one from Talia Esposito and one from Joy Miller.
Holland’s goal came from Emma Margaron.
But after the game, the focus was on the cause.
“I have always believed that when you get this many active young people together, you have to look beyond soccer. Dedicating a game to the Be Nice movement and help increase awareness is really important,” Holland coach Greg Ceithaml said. “I love that both teams were able to look beyond the rivalry and create awareness for a greater cause. We had a great discussion about mental health and the girls understand how important this is for people who think they have nowhere to turn.”
The players know that there will be more places to turn, including among their own teams with raised awareness.
“It means a lot. Both of these teams coming together for the same cause is a wonderful thing, especially to match the competitiveness with that,” Canan said. “This is the first year we have done this and I think we should keep doing this. It is a great thing.”
This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Be Nice game between Zeeland East, Holland raises awareness for ‘silent struggles’ of mental health