Darien High School Raises Awareness For Mental Health Through Athletic Contests

During the weekend of February 10th-11th, Darien High School and the Darien community united as one, as “Wave Strong”. Sellouts at four consecutive DHS athletic contests raised awareness and funds for mental health and suicide prevention organizations.


Last spring the DHS community mourned the loss of three beloved students, two of those died from suicide; DHS is working hard to support one another in the wake of those tragedies. In an effort to honor those students, members of the larger Darien community created Wave Strong to shine a light on the conversation about mental health. Wave Strong has raised more than $12,000 in just a single year of fundraisers, all going towards the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention of Connecticut.

Wave Strong exists to break down the stigmas around mental health. It is an organization of students, parents, athletes, and coaches who are committed to raising awareness and funds for suicide prevention and to remind each other it’s okay not to be okay.

When thinking of ways to unite the community, Wave Strong approached the DHS Athletic offices with an idea: a community night in the stands of DHS basketball and hockey games.

“I loved the idea!  It would be a great way to bring the community together for a wonderful cause.” DHS Athletic Director Mr. Chris Manfredonia said about the first time he was approached with the idea.

While these games featured some of the biggest rivalries around, the nights were centered around Wave Strong and uniting together as a community while raising awareness for mental health.

On Friday, February 10th, DHS took on arch-rival New Canaan in a basketball doubleheader.

Darien Girls Basketball seniors Katie Bloomer, Brynn Karczewski, Julia Erdlen, Kate Avitabile, Emma Quayle, and Katelyn Secor addressing the crowd ahead of their contest with New Canaan. (Katharine Calderwood)

The Girls Basketball team kicked off the action in front of its first sellout this season. DHS senior players started the night by addressing the crowd and in a very emotional speech conveyed the message and meaning behind Wave Strong.

“We are forever bonded by tragedy but we are also compelled to come together to break down the stigmas of mental health and raise awareness for suicide prevention,” senior Captain Julia Erdlen read before the game.

Custom t-shirts and socks representing Wave Strong and its message were worn by players, coaches, and fans.

The boys took the court around 7 pm as they prepared to battle New Canaan in a deciding game for FCIAC conference standings. Not a single fan left between games and as more fans trickled in, the gym was getting close to capacity.

Two packed student sections, not an empty seat in the stands, standing room only. That was the scene Friday night inside the Main Gym. Darien set a new school attendance record for a home basketball contest with that game. While an actual count was not taken, the DHS athletic offices confirmed the pre-sale of 290 student tickets ahead of Friday night’s game.

“Friday and Saturday’s games really brought tears to my eyes just seeing the amount of people cheering on the Darien teams and the amount of support we have from admin., students, and teachers is just amazing” senior Oliver Swift said. Swift is an active member in the Wave Strong campaign and played a big role in these Community Night fundraisers.

“It was certainly special witnessing that big of a crowd showing up to support us. To see the fan base cheer was something magical and the fact that the community came together and rallied behind a cause like Wave Strong made it all the more magical,” said senior and Darien Varsity Boys Basketball team manager Charlie Hughes.

A Darien fan wearing his Wave Strong t-shirt inside the DHS Main Gym as a reminder it’s okay not to be okay (Katharine Calderwood)

While Darien fell in both games on the hardwood, all the proceeds from Friday Night’s games went to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention of Connecticut.

Wave Strong had an encore the following day at the Darien Ice House when the Blue Wave Boys and Girls Ice Hockey teams took to the ice in a doubleheader.

The first game on Saturday was a rematch between Darien and New Canaan, yet another sell out and security had to start turning people away at the gate as the Darien Ice House hit capacity.

For the second straight day the Darien community came together and rallied behind DHS varsity sports and showed why Darien is Wave Strong.

A very powerful weekend in the stands at Darien High School and Darien Ice House showing the impacts that organizations such as Wave Strong have on the Darien community and how united Darien is.

If you would like to learn more about the Wave Strong organization give them a follow on Instagram @_wavestrong. And if you would like to donate to the Wave Strong organization you can venmo donations to @wavestrong or by scanning the QR code below. All the proceeds benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention of Connecticut.


Darien students packed into the Darien Ice House for a hockey doubleheader supporting Wave Strong night. (Katharine Calderwood)