FARGO — The Fargo Davies and Fargo South football teams see a 10-digit phone number and the initials "LM" every time they put their helmets on. Each time they take the field this season, they’re playing for more than just a win.
A decal bearing Liam Medd’s initials, a Fargo Davies student who died by suicide in February, and the number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) is on the back of every South and Davies football player's helmet this year.
The stickers — black with white writing — honor the memory of Medd, who was 15, and spread awareness of the suicide prevention hotline.
Liam’s parents, Todd and Elizabeth Medd, are happy two local teams are honoring their son, but it’s bigger than that for them.
“It’s an honor for him to be memorialized that way, but just as important, if not more important, is making sure that we had the phone number for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline on there so that it was more than just a memorial,” Todd said. “It was a very action-oriented step by both schools and coaches and teams to do that.”
Liam, who played baseball and football, went to school at Davies, but grew up with a lot of the kids from South through youth sports. He was a second baseman in baseball and played cornerback and wide receiver in football.
Davies head football coach Wayne Werremeyer, in his second year at the helm, contacted the Medds about the decals. The idea came after he was approached by some players in the program last school year after Liam’s death.
“We had a group of kids, football players, that decided mental health was an issue and suicide for young males was an issue that we just don’t talk enough about,” Werremeyer said. “So they got some petitions going to get some resources here at the school, and this was pretty much a piggyback off of that. What can we do to get this issue in front of these kids? And what can we do to maybe help one or two kids?”
Werremeyer reached out to South’s head coach Tyler Kosel ahead of an Aug. 20 scrimmage between the two teams. Kosel was on board with the decals and a post-scrimmage talk. Around 200 Bruins and Eagles players gathered in the Davies gymnasium for a discussion on mental health and suicide prevention after the scrimmage.
The teams also heard about Liam and his story from the Medds, who have used their voice to reduce the stigma around suicide. The Medd family directed memorials to the Fargo Davies Turf Fund, among other organizations Liam was a part of, and helped fund the turf field at the high school that was unveiled last month.
“The conversations are super important,” said Werremeyer, who was Liam’s baseball coach when he was about 8 years old. “We come to practice every day, and they’re constantly getting told that if they need help to ask for help — what don’t you understand about the plays we’re running, about the schemes we’re running?
“But then it comes to mental health and all of a sudden it’s not OK to ask for help; and that’s something that we need to get past. When they have questions about mental health, it's no different than asking a question in a math class or asking a question on the football field.”
The Medds created the 4-6-3 Foundation — a reference to their son’s love of baseball — with the Dakota Medical Foundation earlier this year to connect youth and adults to suicide prevention resources and help end teen suicide. They’re especially trying to reach teenagers and teenage student-athletes.
“Liam was somebody that was a high achiever, an athlete, a straight-A student,” Todd said. “What we always tell the kids is what happens in your mind with mental health and sometimes mental illness is no different than what happens with an injury on the football field. In fact, it's even more important because it can be so hidden and it can be so hard to diagnose.”
According to the most recent full-year data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for ages 10 to 34 in the U.S. and in North Dakota. Nationally, men died by suicide 3.63 times as often as women in 2019, according to the data.
“Knowing that it’s one of the leading causes of death for that age group was a shock to us,” Todd said. “We’re trying to take away the mystery around it and kind of bring it into the light as best we can, so that we can have these open conversations and kids know they can reach out if they do have a concern and don't go the route that Liam went and others have gone.”
There was a sense of urgency for the Medds to start the 4-6-3 Foundation after the death of their son. The loss is heavy, but they hope speaking out prevents more suicide deaths, Elizabeth said.
“It was very difficult. We’re still going through the grief process and will probably be for the rest of our lives,” Elizabeth said. “But we didn't want to wait and have more of our youth not know that there is hope and that there are resources. We had to get the message out.”
The Medds also noted the pandemic’s toll on the country’s mental health, especially children, whom it has been “extremely stressful” on, Todd said.
Todd and Elizabeth talked about mental health, drugs, alcohol and chemicals in the brain with Liam and his younger sister, Selma, but didn’t talk specifically about suicide prevention and resources.
“We’ve got very few regrets in life, but one of ours was we didn’t talk to him about suicide,” Todd said. “We want parents to know that you're not putting anything into their head that isn't already there.”
“We were naïve, right? We didn't think it could happen to us,” Todd added. “Even the last moments we spent with Liam before we left for our errand, we didn’t think it could happen to us. It’s such a shock.”
Liam was caring, generous, funny, smart and fearless, his parents said. He was an “amazing” older brother to his 10-year-old sister Selma, who he called “Smalls” after the character from the movie “The Sandlot,” Elizabeth said.
“We were always amazed by the way he lived his life,” Todd said. “And maybe it was because he only had 15 years. It’s kind of hard to get our mind around, but he lived a lot in those years.”
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, but the decals will remain on the Davies and South helmets all season.
"If we can do something to prevent another death, it's certainly something we're going to do," Werremeyer said.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for support at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text "Home" to 741741 to connect with someone from the National Crisis Text Line.
In North Dakota and Clay County, Minn., dial 2-1-1 or text your zip code to 898-211 for free, confidential referrals to resources, listening and support, and crisis intervention through FirstLink.