Mount St. Joseph graduate Sean Dillon stands outside the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C.

DORSET — Sean Dillon is doing a lot of teaching on the basketball floor at Long Trail School. It a time to stress fundamentals in the first season for varsity girls basketball at the school, but Dillon does not see his role ending on the basketball court.

“I want to to build trust. I want them to know I’m not just a basketball coach. I want to be someone they can trust. I hope that they can come to speak to me, a parent or a friend about any problems,” Dillon said.

Dillon said when he was growing up, he did not know how to open up to people about his problems. He believes that during a pandemic when people are experiencing isolation, it is more important than ever to be able to do so.

The LTS coach has life experience that makes him in tune to mental health concerns and suicide prevention awareness.

It was in the summer of 2005 that he received a phone call from his father telling him that Dillon’s stepbrother Tad had taken his own life.

Dillon was working at a financial company in New York City and rushed back to Vermont. Despite being separated by six years, Dillon and Tad were close.

The experience taught Dillon just how important communication can be during a crisis.

“When Tad died, we had someone come to our house and talk to us. It was very helpful,” he said.

“I want them (his players) to know that it is OK go through a tough time and that it is OK to ask for help.”

The pandemic can make that all the more difficult.

“Sometimes you need support and when you are isolated that’s a problem,” Dillon said.

“I had a very hard time when I was younger, expressing any feelings.”

Dillon grew up in the area and was a basketball standout for Mount St. Joseph Academy. He is the Mounties’ all-time leading scorer with 1,581 points. He was also the Vermont Gatorade Player of the Year in 1989 and 1990.

He played basketball at New York University where he helped lead the Violets to the NCAA Division III national championship game. During his four years, NYU fashioned an 86-23 record.

Here, he had another lesson in relationships and their importance. The Violets were tight and some of those teammates would lend support when Dillon and his family experienced their tragedy.

“There are people you go out to have a drink with and there are friends,” Dillon said.

His NYU teammates fell in the latter group.

“They were a No. 1 support system,” he said.

Dillon is a Vermont field advocate for suicide prevention. He went to the State House in Montpelier to talk about suicide prevention awareness and journeyed to Washington, D.C., where he attended a national advocacy forum on the topic.

He has not done speaking locally but said that he would if he were asked.

When he does speak, he gets the fact out there that he is not a mental health expert.

“I am just here to share my own experience is what I tell them,” Dillon said.

Dillon works for the Heritage Family Credit Union in Rutland and has been able to work from his Dorset home during the pandemic.

He loves the Dorset countryside and said he was not even aware of it during his time growing up in the area.

He is an avid bike rider, logging more than 800 miles last year.

“I nicknamed my bike Doc because my bike was my therapist,” Dillon said.

He sees today’s world as a difficult one to grow up in and now that has been compounded by the pandemic.

Dillon points out that young people today have a layer that is a concern that he did not have when he was their age. He talked about social media as a source for bullying and a cause for low self esteem.

Pediatric suicide has increased by about 57 percent from 2017 to 2018 and social media has frequently been cited as one of the reasons.

He hopes that his own children as well as his basketball players learn how to ask for help whenever they need it.

Dillon still has that same love of basketball he harbored as a player at MSJ and NYU.

Now, he also sees it as another platform he has been given for issues far more important than the game.

tom.haley @rutlandherald.com

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