High school quarterback loses friend to suicide, starts a foundation and prepares for speech

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Suicide is devastating. It leaves incalculable amounts of unanswered questions. Adults wonder what more could have been done and the kids old enough to grasp the concept are left baffled. When waking up is so difficult that leaving forever is desired – that’s a pain unimaginable to most. And when it’s a teenager that falls to suicide, the grief becomes particularly shattering.

On Friday, Juniper Serra's 16-year-old varsity quarterback Luke Bottari will give a speech on suicide prevention before the homecoming game when Serra hosts Archbishop Mitty. Every player on each team will be wearing special suicide awareness socks Bottari made.

Bottari lost his former girlfriend to suicide six months ago. She was 15. The two had been close since middle school.

"Having someone very dear to me take her life at such a young age had a huge impact on me,” Bottari said. “Many of us would say we knew her so well, but that wasn't enough to keep her smiling personality with us."

The untimely death helped to mobilize an idea that targets an age which sees a high rate of suicide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds and second for 25-34 year olds.

Woven into Bottari’s grieving process was the idea for Play4Prevention, a nonprofit foundation he created that is “dedicated to finding actionable and positive avenues to raise awareness about and focus on the prevention of teen suicide.” P4P broke ground with the help of Bottari’s mom, Natasha Bottari, and Serra Head Football Coach Patrick Walsh.

"I wanted to support Luke's passion and dedication," said Walsh, the founder of Next Level Sports Foundation, which sponsors P4P. "Most students have great ideas that are never brought to fruition. Luke has made this happen, and there's a deep well of energy that you can feel when you're around him.”

The leader of this movement comes as no surprise to those who observe his interactions and tender touch. The high school junior is a leader on and off the field. And it’s his drive and accountability that inspires his teammates, his coach said. And the palpable action is acknowledged as being more powerful than a traditional vocal leader.

"Luke has always been especially mature and emotionally sensitive," Natasha Bottari said. "I never imagined that his idea to do something to honor his friend would turn into something so fantastic and touch so many teens through his foundation.”

P4P aims to illuminate a dark, crippling topic. Because while medical professionals cannot profoundly abolish suicide, it is preventable through treatment. By educating teens and parents, P4P hopes to elevate the voice of a teen that needs help. Additionally, there is no explicit target demographic. The parents of ambitious, social and academically successful students should be aware as well.

"We hope to inspire and empower them," Bottari said. "Even during their hardest times, kids and teens are not alone, no matter the circumstance or overwhelming struggle of the moment. We want to bring a voice to the stigma of teen suicide for teens and parents and offer a place to find resource support, open discussion and ultimate comfort and kinship."

Heartbreaking moments where we humans are at their most raw, vulnerable state opens up the heart to explore avenues otherwise left ignored. The actions of a 16-year-old add to a dialogue that has existed for generations, one that brushes over the underdiagnosed topic of mental illnesses, and how it contributes to the horror of suicide. Luke Bottari recognized a chance to transform tragedy to lifesaving awareness, consequently honoring the loss of his friend.

"She was always smiling, had a great personality and was beautiful," Bottari said. "She taught me to always treat people with respect and respect people's differences.

P4P’s awareness campaign kicks off at 6:30 p.m. at Juniper Serra High School.