Cheryl Love wears a t-shirt with her son’s name on it, and a “Vanilla Thunder” logo, his nickname when on the court. She holds a basketball signed by all the participants in the first Isaac Williams-Herrington 3 on 3 memorial tournament, put together to raise funds and awareness for suicide prevention, after Isaac died by suicide in November 2017. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

Esquimalt High fights mental health stigma on the basketball court

The Isaac Williams-Herrington Memorial Tournament honours an Esquimalt teen who died by suicide

Isaac Williams-Herrington was a fun, goofy and athletic guy.

“He had such a unique style, I haven’t seen another person pull off what he would wear,” said his mother, Cheryl Love. “I mean, he wore visors and anything Nike. He was basically a Nike model.”

On the basketball court he was known as Vanilla Thunder for his tall figure, flowing blonde hair and competitive ferocity. He played for both the Esquimalt High team, and the Night League.

Love added that besides his quirkiness, Williams-Herrington was a genuine character.

“He was bright, funny and caring,” Love said. “He was someone his friends could rely on.”

But Williams-Herrington also had underlying mental health problems which nobody knew about until Nov. 19, 2017.

“That day he asked me to buy him some more basketball equipment,” Love said. “He passed that afternoon.”

Williams-Herrington died by suicide in his own home. He was 16.

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His family was run over with shock.

“Hindsight, there were a few things that could have been signs, but we didn’t know,” Love said.

For this reason, Love and her family decided to share what had happened with his teams and friends at Esquimalt High School, and take steps to make sure more people feel comfortable talking about mental health and suicide.

Just six months after Williams-Herrington’s death, his family and friends organized the Isaac Williams-Herrington Memorial 3 on 3 Basketball Tournament. The two-day event brought together the community that Williams-Herrington loved, and that loved him back.

Isaac Williams-Herrington was know as Vanilla Thunder on the basketball court (File submitted)

Over 50 students participated, and over $7,000 was raised for the Need2 Suicide Prevention group, and the high school. At the end of the tournament, everyone signed a basketball and presented it to Love, who keeps it as a centrepiece in her home.

This year, the tournament will run again on April 12 and 13 at Esquimalt High School. Students from any school between grades 9-12 are welcome to join. A $20 fee will get each participant a t-shirt bearing a Vanilla Thunder logo, designed by Esquimalt High’s graphic design class. The winning team will win a first-place prize valued at $500.

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If someone can’t afford the fee they can still play, Love said, the event is more about getting the conversation going.

“Talking about it really just helps to end the stigma,” Love said. “When someone dies of cancer or an illness there’s a bit more sympathy with it… but if someone says they’re dealing with depression, people will be like ‘oh stay back, I don’t want to catch that.’”

Love added that in her own realm the conversations are changing; her son’s friends have become a lot more comfortable talking about mental health, and she is pursuing education in mental health with hopes of eventually working with youth.

This year, all funds raised will go towards suicide prevention programs.

People can still register for the event by heading to esquimalt.sd61.ca/school-spotlight/3-on-3-basketball-tournament.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com


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