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Ethan’s Purpose: Foundation focuses on Suicide Awareness through basketball

A foundation birthed from a tragic incident brings awareness in a new way.

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Ethan’s Purpose: Foundation focuses on Suicide Awareness through basketball

Volunteers and participants of

Volunteers and participants of "3-on-3 for E" Basketball Tournament come together before the tournament started.

Volunteers and participants of "3-on-3 for E" Basketball Tournament come together before the tournament started.

Volunteers and participants of "3-on-3 for E" Basketball Tournament come together before the tournament started.

Sierra Newton, Sports Editor

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The Northern Kentucky community gathered at Conner High School in honor of Ethan Zegarra. But their tribute on April 21 was not a sorrowful one; they honored him by doing one of the things he loved most—playing basketball.

This past September, Ethan died by suicide. His mother, Debbie Zegarra, wanted to raise awareness in his honor. Ethan lived with anxiety, ADHD and was diagnosed with clinical depression.

“He had a lot of challenges in life,” Zegarra said. “And he often talked to me about why did God put him here? … And he literally would say, ‘What’s my purpose?’ So, when this happened, I think it made me realize that he really did struggle to find his purpose in life. And that was sad for me.”

The Zegarra family were fortunate enough to have counseling for Ethan, but Zegarra realized that counseling is not available to everyone.

“When Ethan passed we didn’t know what to do,” Zegarra said. “And I thought … we were fortunate enough we could provide counseling for him. He had great friends, he worked out with a trainer at the gym, we were able to provide those things. But there are a lot of kids in life that don’t have those opportunities. And so we thought, let’s take this money and let’s start a foundation.”

Over the past seven months Zegarra began to do research to better understand what Ethan was thinking and how people who may be considering suicide feel.

But I wish I had said, ‘Why do you think this is your only option,’” Zegarra said. “Not because I wanted to make him feel bad or shame him? Right? I wanted to understand. And I think if I understood better, I could have helped better.”

Zegarra took part of Ethan’s college education fund and started Ethan’s Purpose. The “Three on Three for E” basketball tournament was not the first program held in his honor to bring awareness. Zegarra also took part in a Boone County mental health summit a few weeks ago.

Zegarra is looking to make this an annual event to bring awareness to suicide prevention.

“About two weeks ago, I was a little nervous that we were going to have to cancel because we didn’t have reservations…. I pray about it and I talk to Ethan every day. And I feel like I’m fulfilling a bigger purpose than my life and my purpose.”

The day started with opening remarks from Mollie Watson from Q102 WKRQ FM, Ethan’s cousin and senior NKU basketball forward Drew McDonald, and Zegarra herself.

“I just want to thank you guys all for being here, I know this means a lot to my family,” McDonald said. “We just want to keep Ethan’s purpose going forward, keep this thing alive and hopefully save one life, which can turn into many lives. And Debbie came to me with this idea before my season even started last year. So, this has been something long in the making and we’re thrilled about the turn out.”

There were three divisions of competition for the tournament. The middles school division had seven teams in the tournament, while high school division had 16 teams and post high school division had eight teams.

Two of Ethan’s best friends, Andrew Necomb and Ethan Loftin competed in the day. They expressed how much this event meant to them as well.

“It kind of makes me feel like he’s here because everytime we would hang out we’d play basketball,” Newcomb said. “It’s like the only thing we did, so it’s pretty cool.”

Loftin continued to describe how impactful this event is for bringing awareness.

“It’s something bad that happened but we’re not just hushing it and putting it away,” Loftin said. “We’re showing that we’re still supporting.”

A lot of family friends and community members volunteered to make the tournament possible. A great number of attendees had a connection with Ethan, including Conner High School principal, Andy Wyckoff.

Wyckoff had been freshman principal before assuming the main principal role this year. In his role as freshman principal, he had the opportunity of getting to know Ethan better.

“I was kind of his mentor and go to guy when he was a freshman and also as a sophomore,” Wyckoff said. “So I knew Ethan very well. His mom is actually a teacher at the school that my children had gone through as well. so I’ve known Debbie for a while.”

So when Zegarra asked if she could hold the tournament at Conner, Wyckoff felt that it was an “automatic yes.”

“It’s what it’s what you should do for kids,” Wyckoff said. “That’s what you should do for—what Debbie’s trying to do in terms of raising awareness for mental health. And kids need alternatives to hurting themselves or turning to alcohol or drugs, etc,. If you give them an outlet, hopefully that keeps them from doing those sorts of things.”

The money raised will go towards Ethan’s Purpose Foundation. As of Thursday, the foundation was approved for bringing a counselor to Conner High School twice a month for students who can’t afford one or don’t have the ability to get to one.   

“We hope to take this and have it grow and try and reach more students and just help people find their purpose,” Zegarra said. “Mental health and suicide knows no boundaries.”

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, there are resources available near you:

1-800-273-8255

Text: “HELP” to 741741

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Ethan’s Purpose: Foundation focuses on Suicide Awareness through basketball