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Ogden • Big Sky Conference commissioner Doug Fullerton is retiring July 1.
Part of the 21-year legacy he's leaving behind was on display Wednesday, when the Big Sky held its third annual Student Mental Health and Wellness Symposium.
Administrators, coaches and members of the league's Student Advisory Committee gathered at Weber State for a discussion of the sometimes overwhelming stress and challenges faced by today's athlete.
Dr. Brian Hainline, the chief medical officer of the NCAA Sports Science Institute, joined Dr. Michael Grandner and Dr. Amy Athey as featured speakers.
Grandner is a clinical psychologist certified in behavioral sleep medicine at the University of Arizona. Athey is Arizona's director of clinical and sports psychology.
Hainline praised the Big Sky for embracing the mental health issue in college athletics, saying the league is "way ahead of the curve" in such matters.
"I can count the conferences on one hand that have had a day like today," he said. "It's just not happening. … It's just not clicking in."
According to Fullerton, Hainline's passion on the matter helped make the mental health of Big Sky athletes one of his priorities.
"A couple of years ago," he said, "we brought Dr. Hainline out to talk to our presidents. I'm in there listening to him and I'm flashing back to when I was a student-athlete. … It was like he was speaking directly to me."
Fullerton grew up in Hamilton, Mont. He attended California Western University now U.S. International in San Diego.
"Arriving in southern California, I didn't know anybody but the coach," Fullerton said. "In fact, I'd never been to a big city. The environment I was thrown into, the isolation I went through how many kids go through that today? I know it was bad enough that I remember today, 40 years after it happened."
After hearing Hainline, Fullerton felt "strongly committed" to helping current and future Big Sky athletes with their mental health and well-being.
"Luckily," he said, "I've had a group of presidents who said, 'Absolutely, we recognize this.' The athletic directors have bought in, too. … The modern athlete, that's who we have to take care of."
At one point during the symposium, Hainline asked the athletes in attendance to raise their hand if they knew someone who has been suicidal. Nearly every one did.
"That ought to shock everybody," Fullerton said. "… It should motivate everybody to say, 'We have to do a better job of dealing with this situation and making it better.'"
Said Hainline, "… I believe mental health is our most important issue."
He added that overuse of drugs, alcohol and sleep deprivation are root causes of depression and suicide, which is the third-leading cause of death among college student-athletes.
"Alcohol is vicious," he said. "Alcohol kills. It brings you to places that you never, ever want to go. … [And] when we are sleep-deprived, our suicidal tendencies increase five-fold."
"Way ahead of the curve"
• The Big Sky Conference holds its third annual Student-Athlete Mental Health and Wellness Symposium.
• Administrators and athletes from around the Big Sky attend the discussion, which was hosted by Weber State.
• The mental health issue of current and future Big Sky athletes has been a priority of commissioner Doug Fullerton.