Any Athlete will tell you the number he or she chooses has a deep meaning. The number they wear is part of who they are. It is part of their identity.
If you think about your favorite sports personality, the number is almost the identity of the person. If you see a New York Yankee shirt with #2- Derek Jeter. A Patriots jersey with #12- Tom Brady. An Orioles shirt with #5- Brooks Robinson. The name does not even need to appear on the shirt, but we instantly know who it is.
Growing up as a kid, we were all excited to get our first official uniform. When the Coach would ask us what number do you want, it is such a tough question to answer. The pressure to pick the right number can be overwhelming to a kid. Then we think, “I’ll pick the same number as my favorite player”. For me, it was #7, the favorite player of my Dad and mine, Mickey Mantle.
As we get older, most of our athletic careers end freshman year of high school. For the exceptional athlete, they may play another four years in high school. For elite athletes, they play for another four years in college. A very select few will play professionally. These athletes that play high school, college, or professionally, the number they wear is part of who they are, and it is part of all of us when we root for their success.
The number 24 has loomed large in our home for many years. The number 24 was Sean’s basketball number (except his freshman year at UD because the number 24 belonged to a senior). I wish I could tell you why Sean picked the number 24. I have my theories, but I really don’t know. Unfortunately, no one in the family knows why he chose the number 24. A big part of this is because the picking of a number for your jersey can be so personal. His coach at St. Marks said that so long as he is Coach, no other person will ever wear #24. He said firmly, “#24 is Sean’s number”. It is that personal to so many who knew Sean and played basketball with him.
I chose to write this blog at this time because today, July 18th, is the 24th month since our beloved Sean lost his battle with depression. He was buried on July 24th, two weeks shy of his 24th birthday.
It has been 24 months since we last heard his voice, felt his hugs, saw him smile. Each 24-hour day has been tougher without him in it. The silence of his voice is deafening. His absence looms larger than his presence ever did.
His old basketball jerseys with the number 24 are now valuable family heirlooms to be passed down to his siblings someday when I have the courage to part with them. Every once in a while, I wear one of his jerseys just to feel close to him.
The number 24 still looms large in our family life. When my daughter, Kathryn, gave birth to our grandson, Maclin, it was on Sean’s favorite holiday, the 24th of December. When our son, Aedan, returned to his football team in the late summer of 2018, the coach and the entire team gave him #24 to wear. The following spring, his lacrosse coach and the team did the same. When our daughter, Patty, made the basketball team at Padua, the coach gave her #24 to wear for the next four years. It brought tears to all of us.
When our family decided to create a foundation in honor of Sean, the number 24 was always going to be part of the foundation name. The number 24 is part of Sean’s identity and is now part of all of us.
The SL24 Foundation is rooted in supporting other people like Sean who need help with their mental health. Though the family created the name of the Foundation, it has been all of you; our board members, our sponsors, and all of our and Sean’s friends that have made SL24 what it is today. It is all of you that have worn Sean’s #24 all over the country, and even parts of the world, having conversations removing the stigma of mental illness. So many have told me that when you wear your SL24 shirt, it begins a serious conversation about mental health. When we give the warm-up jerseys to each player at the basketball tournament, they wear them with pride and have meaningful conversations with their parents and friends about mental health long after the tournament is over.
Today, we see Sean’s #24 in a different light. It represents that Sean’s legacy and his number 24 will educate high school and college students about mental health, assist those with mental illness, and support those who need help.
On September 24th, we will open Sean’s House in Newark, Delaware. It will be open 24 hours a day, free of charge, to help young adults 14 to 24 years of age. Sean’s House will support and provide resources through our Peer 24 Program. This Peer 24 Program was designed in conjunction with the amazing people of the University of Delaware faculty at the College of Health Science, School of Nursing, and the Psychology Department. The Peer 24 Program will consist of people trained by the Mental Health Association in Delaware to be peer support specialists with real lived experience to help those with mental health issues. Doctorate students from the Psychology Department, with the supervision of staff, will be available to provide additional support to those young adults thinking of self-harm.
Sean’s House would not be possible without all of you. It would not be possible without all the love and dedication so many have given to the mission of SL24 Foundation. Your love for Sean and the love for those you have lost in your own life to mental illness will help so many. We hope that Sean’s House will be the first step to remove the stigma of mental illness and to help those we love to get the help they need.
We will never know why Sean picked the number 24, but we do know that his number will represent so much more than something that was on the back of his jersey.
Last month, I watched a Ben Affleck movie called “The Way Back”. In the film, Affleck plays a former basketball superstar who is struggling with life. It is a story of sorrow but also a story of redemption. At the end of the movie, he is walking in his former high school gym, and you see his banner acknowledging his greatness with his retired number. The number is 24. I literally gasped when I saw this scene.
Sean’s story is a story of sorrow, but it is also a story of love for all those he will help in his name and number. Sean was all about loving and caring for others, and through Sean’s House, his story will continue.