Tanners junior Molly Smedira, a Lynnfield student athlete, organized last Saturday's "Faceoff against Mental Illness" game. (Item File Photo)

Tanners junior Smedira teams up with Project Semicolon

PEABODY -- When the Peabody/Lynnfield and Bishop Fenwick girls hockey teams squared off last Saturday in the opening game of their annual two-game rivalry series, there was much more on the line than merely winning or losing.

The first annual "Faceoff against Mental Illness" game served as a fundraiser for Project Semicolon, a charitable organization whose mission is dedicated to the prevention of suicide.

Tanners junior defenseman Molly Smedira, a Lynnfield High student athlete, organized the game, complete with raffles and merchandise sales, dedicating the game to the memory of James Luti, a former Stoneham High hockey player, who died at the age of 16 last year.

"My parents and I started getting it organized in late September," said Smedira. "Originally I was going to do one with Lynnfield field hockey, but I decided to move on to a larger community of ice hockey people to get more people to come out and more support."

Mission accomplished.  The rink was packed with supporters from several communities, including Stoneham.  More than  $1,000 was raised, which will be donated to Project Semicolon.  Smedira even designed a special Project Semicolon hockey logo that decorated the back page of the program.

Luti's high school hockey sweater was hung behind the Tanners' bench in his honor.  

"The Stoneham representation for a boy that passed away who took his own life," said Smedira. "We wanted to represent that he was there so that was the significance of the jersey.  James was a hockey player on the Stoneham team and his parents were here tonight."

Smedira said the team also hung a poster for  Randi Lemenager, a 2013 Peabody High graduate and Westfield State University valedictorian who died in 2017.

"She is also no longer with us," said Smedira. "She was the valedictorian of her high school and college senior classes. Her parents were here, too."

The cause is near and dear to Smedira as she knows firsthand how depression can impact a family.

"I suffer from depression and anxiety myself," she said. "People didn't know how to react to it.  Community, friends, family don't know how to talk about it. They don't really know that it's okay to talk about it, so I wanted to get the community informed that we need to talk about this issue.

"I know myself, my family and some friends do suffer from mental illness and it's a huge issue with young people.  It's important to talk about it even though people think that suicide survivors and others who suffer don't want to talk about, but it's so important to talk about it. Reaching out to a friend, family member, school counselor, a trusted adult, anybody is just the first step.  People need to know that others are there who can be trusted and want to help them."

Smedira joked that she was very stressed as the game was winding down and Peabody was clinging to a one-goal lead with Fenwick on the attack. The Tanners won Saturday's game, 2-1 over the Crusaders.

She also said the benefits of being on a high school team far outweigh any anxiety that comes with winning and losing.

"Being an athlete can be stressful at times but it helps so much because you have more people who can relate to you and support you and you have so many great friends you make who you can really lean on," she said.

Peabody coach Michelle Roach said all the credit belonged to Smedira.

"We're all so proud of her for putting all of this together and she worked really hard to make this day happen," she said. "We're there to support her the entire season and she really made sure this game came off and the crowd was incredible.  

"I saw the Stoneham people and Molly just did a phenomenal job. This is an important topic affecting a lot of people and kids right now and Molly decided one of the platforms we have as a team. This day wouldn't have happened without her commitment."

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