Teenagers from three high schools rocked by student suicides this school year set aside all academic pressures and stress to devote themselves to play Sunday.

For three hours, students from Waynflete School in Portland, Falmouth High School and Greely High School in Cumberland played kickball, tossed Frisbees and joined lacrosse scrimmages to raise money for suicide awareness efforts – and have some simple fun. About 170 teenagers and 30 adults showed up at Waynflete’s playing fields on Osgood Street in Portland.

An hour into the event, 110 T-shirts at $10 each were close to being sold out and the mountains of hot dogs and hamburgers and trays of brownies and cookies were quickly disappearing.

“They knocked it out of the park,” said Chris Burke, owner of Mainely Mesh, a Portland lacrosse supply store, who donated the T-shirts.

Burke was referring to three Waynflete lacrosse team members – seniors Willy Burdick of Scarborough, Nina Moore of Freeport and Christian Rowe of South Portland – who came up with the idea of a play day as the school continues to cope with the suicides of two female students, one a sophomore and the other a junior, this school year.

The three said they wanted to bring about something positive from the tragedies.


“We thought it instrumental to make team sports part of the day, because it highlights the importance of everybody being important to the team,” Rowe said.

The three didn’t know exactly what to expect, nor did the school’s adult staff and parents, who were enlisted to come up with the tables of food, all you could eat for a $5 donation.

Waynflete Athletic Director Ross Burdick said he volunteered to be there just in case the students needed help.

“I said I would sort of help. But this is really all the students. They thought it up, planned it and organized it,” Burdick said.

The play day was one of several public steps the private school in Portland’s West End has taken to shine a light on student suicide. Administrators posted online messages to the student body on the school’s website about the suicides, which happened in October and March. The school also reached out to the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Maine to help students deal with their grief.

The three students said they wanted the play day to be informal. There were few organized activities, other than the lacrosse scrimmages and a group pushup session instigated by Cam Nigro, a senior at Scarborough High School whose lacrosse coach has made the team participate in a “22 Pushups in 22 Days” challenge, a campaign to raise awareness about the 22 military veterans who commit suicide each day in the United States.


Donna Betts, executive director and founder of Family Hope in Scarborough, a mental health resource service for families, offered information about suicide to anyone who stopped by her kiosk. Betts said she was amazed by the response to the play day.

“This generation is going to change things,” said Betts, whose oldest son committed suicide.

Devin Russell, a junior lacrosse player at Falmouth High School, said a play day was just what he needed.

“It is great to get out here, have a good time and be happy,” Russell said.

Dana Peirce of Portland, who graduated from Waynflete last year and now attends Bowdoin College, said she played lacrosse with one of the students who committed suicide.

“I wanted to show support. It is really good to talk about suicide. It is not talked about enough,” Peirce said.

Mak Parr of Portland, a sophomore at Waynflete, said he felt a bond with students from the other schools who had lost a classmate to suicide.

“It is completely amazing how people can come together. This will help us heal even better,” Parr said.

The organizers of Sunday’s event have not yet decided to which suicide awareness programs they will donate the proceeds of the fundraiser.

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