Photo courtesy of Brandon Farris.
Tyler Hilinski being held up by his teammates after bringing the Washington State Cougars to victory over Boise State.

Awareness, curriculum, and partnership. These are a few words that come to mind when learning about Hilinski’s Hope. Hilinski’s Hope is a nonprofit organization based out of Long Beach, California, with the goal of teaching college students about mental health. “To honor his life, we launched Hilinski’s Hope Foundation to shine a light on mental health and destigmatize mental illness,” said Kym Hilinski, founder of Hilinski’s Hope.

The death of her son, Tyler Hilinski, motivated her to found this nonprofit. She was searching for ways to help others.

Tyler Hilinski was the Division-1 quarterback at Washington State University and was known on campus as the “comeback kid” after relieving their starting quarterback and bringing the Cougars back from a 21-point deficit and beating Boise State in triple overtime. He proudly wore the No. 3 on his jersey. It was always paired with a smile. He was found dead in his student-living apartment on January 16, 2018.

“He never showed any physical signs of suffering. His death came as a shock to everyone who knew him or knew of him,” his mother said, her voice cracking. After the autopsy, it was found that Tyler Hilinski suffered from stage one of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, better known as CTE. This can cause frequent mood swings and causes the brain to age faster than normal.

The Hilinski family immediately created Hilinski’s Hope in March 2018 to carry on Tyler Hilinski’s legacy and help other people suffering from mental health disorders. In the last year, Hilinski’s Hope has partnered with the National Collegiate Athletic Association Sport Science Institute, Beyond Happy Faces, Step Up! and the Spurs Up Show to bring more attention to the organization. The mental health initiative that Kym and Mark Hilinski took has gone beyond Washington State and made national headlines.

The founder of The Spurs Up Show, Chris Phillips has worked with the Hilinskis to create merchandise for the University of South Carolina community to purchase and raise awareness of the foundation.

Phillips said, “I truly feel blessed to have had the opportunity with The Spurs Up Show to team up with Hilinski’s Hope and bring awareness to the end goal of helping those in need. I look forward to helping them in the future and spreading the good work of what Hilinski’s Hope is doing.”

Hilinski’s Hope has gained the attention of ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Athletic Business and many other sports media outlets. The most recent partnership with the NCAA Sport Science Institute is to research and identify best practices to implement mental health curriculum among student-athletes. In addition to this partnership, Hilinski’s Hope partnered with Behind Happy Faces and Step Up! just weeks after founding the organization.

Behind Happy Faces focuses on mental health curriculum. Members travel to different campuses and teach seminars about mental health awareness, signs and symptoms of different illnesses, and encourage those attending to destigmatize mental illness. Hilinski’s Hope had adopted their curriculum and Kym Hilinski travels around with members for panel interviews and to share Tyler Hilinski’s story. Based out of the University of Arizona, Step Up! is also an NCAA partner. Step Up! is a bystander intervention program to bring attention to the warning signs of mental illness.

Ryan Hilinski, Tyler Hilinski’s younger brother has committed to play football at USC. Phillips and Ryan Hilinski collaborated on merchandise marketed to USC. For example, the two created a shirt that reads, “forever to 3.” It is a play on a line of the USC alma mater and the number that all three Hilinski men played football in.

These partnerships Hilinski’s Hope has created have led to national recognition. The most prominent recognitions that Hilinski’s Hope has received has been on the WSU and USC campuses.

Phillips said, “Alumni from both schools have supported the cause, as well as different initiatives they have pushed which have gained national attention from outlets such as Sports Illustrated, ESPN, etc.” Recently, the Hilinski’s Hope “3-for-3 burpee challenge” has been blowing up on Instagram and Twitter. Ashley Ammons, an exercise science major at USC participated in the challenge on her fitness Instagram page.

She said, “The 3-for-3 burpee challenge is a great way to get athletes involved to help spread awareness for mental health. It challenges others to spread the word through fitness.” Ammons and Phillips both said that they have seen big names in USC athletics post a burpee video and challenge other athletes to join the movement. Those include Hayden Hurst, Alshon Jeffery, and Stephen Garcia.

Mental illness is prevalent on college campuses and is unfortunately stigmatized. Hilinski’s Hope wants to bring awareness and a curriculum to college campuses and help student-athletes who may be struggling. Ammons said, “I love this foundation because it shows that just because someone is an athlete, doesn’t mean they don’t suffer from a mental health disorder.” The Hilinskis are using the unfortunate circumstance to help others. To donate and contribute to the $2 million goal, go to www.hilinskishope.org.

Kym Hilinski said, quoting the foundations website, “Please remember Tyler with love and please do three good things every day.”