Tennessee athletes team up for mental health

Maria M. Cornelius2MCsports

Former Tennessee athletes Alexis Hornbuckle and Derrick Furlow Jr., have teamed up with the YMCA in Knoxville to offer mental health training for young children in sports.

Hornbuckle, a Lady Vols basketball player from 2004-08, and Furlow, a Vol football player from 2005-09, both make their home in Knoxville and are now with Onrise, which provides comprehensive mental health care to teams, clubs, leagues and players’ associations at youth, college and professional levels.

Derrick Furlow Jr.

Kim Quigley M.D. is the CEO of Onrise, Furrow serves as chief athletic officer, and Hornbuckle is an athlete mental health specialist.

Six sessions for teens age 13-17 will be held on Tuesdays and Thursday, July 9-July 25, from 1-2:30 p.m. at the Pilot Family YMCA, located  at 400 N. Winston Road. Registration is $50 for Y members and $75 for non-members and is available HERE. After the final session day on July 25, the campers will enjoy an excursion to the Main Event for fun and games.

Free transportation is available with pickup scheduled at local high schools, and scholarships can be granted for discount or free programs. Additional information also is available by contacting Senior Program Director Erin Stidham of the YMCA at 865-777-9622. The event is part of the Athlete Support Club at the Pilot Family YMCA that was formed by the YMCA and Onrise after Stidham and Quigley connected.

Alexis Hornbuckle

“When you’re young, you still face things,” Hornbuckle said. “Broken bones, different injuries, not getting playing time, overtraining, anger issues – there are many things that show up in young athletes and show up early.

“Sometimes we as coaches, parents, teachers and administrators, we either don’t have the tools or we don’t implement the tools. This is something that we’ve primarily been doing with the pros for the past few years. We wanted to bring it down a level to where the kids can really start to learn.”

Hornbuckle won two national titles for the legendary Pat Summitt at Tennessee in 2007 and 2008. She also faced adversity with a broken right wrist that required late season surgery and forced her into becoming a one-armed basketball player in the NCAA tourney in 2006. She quickly learned to shoot free throws with her left hand because she couldn’t bend her right wrist. Hornbuckle also has talked often about her journey with mental health and the need for services for athletes.

Derrick Furlow Jr. (UT Athletics)

The messages kids can hear from adults is “get over it, you’re young, you don’t know what depression is, you don’t know what being sad is, you don’t know what tough it is,” Hornbuckle said. “But wherever you’re at in life, when something hits you and it’s tough for you, then it’s tough for you.

“We give them these tools to not only validate their feelings, but also point them in the right direction to overcome them but in a positive way that’s going to strengthen them both mentally and physically.”

Hornbuckle grew up in Charleston, West Virginia, a city of about 50,000 people. She started playing basketball and soccer at the age of 4.

“Soccer was my anger management, because you get to hit people with no pads,” Hornbuckle said. “Maybe if I could have channeled that anger into, ‘Take a deep breath, take a step back, realize where you’re at, what’s going on. Are you angry that you got hit? Are you angry that you didn’t make that goal? That the pass was bad?’

“We can really start to focus on how to clean up our actual performance once we can pinpoint where this anger, where this frustration, is coming from. And the younger you can do that, the better off you are.”

Alexis Hornbuckle (UT Athletics)

While Hornbuckle would excel at basketball and earn a scholarship to Tennessee, “soccer was my first love.” That makes a lot of sense as Hornbuckle had excellent footwork and could run rather effortlessly in practice. She was a defender, center midfielder – that player stays in motion – and even a goalie at times. Summitt’s displeasure in practice resulted in a lot of sprints and while teammates were gasping for air, Hornbuckle was gliding up and down the court.

“Running was not a problem,” Hornbuckle said.

Now, she wants to make sure young players have the opportunity to be prepared before they compete. Information about Onrise and all of its programs can be found HERE.

“We can help fuse that bridge between mental training and sports training and make it so it’s not boring, it’s not therapy,” Hornbuckle said. “It’s literally giving these kids tools, whether that’s breathing techniques, how to handle anxiety or fear, different tools to help boost your confidence, how to process frustration in game situations and use it to your benefit and not your detriment.

“They’ll get these tools, and they’ll be able to implement them early. In sport and in life, you get hit with things at young ages.”

Maria M. Cornelius, a senior writer/editor at MoxCar Marketing + Communications since 2013, started her journalism career at the Knoxville News Sentinel and began writing about the Lady Vols in 1998. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press.


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