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Star Ishpeming athlete remembered throughout season that leads up to state finals

November 21, 2012
By STEVE BROWNLEE - Journal Sports Writer ( , The Mining Journal

ISHPEMING - It's a delicate subject for any family, and one most may not ever talk about.

But Ishpeming High School varsity football coach Jeff Olson and his wife Sally Olson think it's important enough that they're willing to share their thoughts to anyone who has questions about the suicide of their 19-year-old son Daniel.

The teen took his life on July 19 while living in suburban Green Bay, Wis., just a few weeks before his father was set to begin fall practice for his 21st season as head coach of the Hematites.

Article Photos

Fans in the Ishpeming High School student section at the Superior Dome Saturday hold signs in rememebrance of Daniel Olson and Derrick Briones, two athletes who died recently. (Journal photo by Matt Wellens)

Unfortunately, suicide is common enough that hearing about it is often not surprising.

But this suicide was a shock to many people who had watched this star athlete guide his high school team in the glamorous role as starting quarterback to the state championship game in Detroit two years ago this week.

He was a gifted athlete in several other sports, too, including basketball.

But the younger Olson suffered from severe anxiety and depression.

"We want to put it out there that this is a treatable disease," Jeff Olson said. "He was dealing with it for five years that we were aware of, and maybe two or three more years before that.

"Daniel tried so many things, medication, counseling and different doctors. He just didn't have the quality of life he wanted.

"Here he was a great athlete and had lots of friends, and he would ask, 'Why do I feel like this?'"

"He fought it hard, and I'm grateful for his toughness."

Jeff Olson said that athletics, whether it was games, practice or working out, was "a sanctuary" for Daniel.

It was those times when he had time to think, when he wasn't occupied with activities, that the anxiety, worry and depressing thoughts could overwhelm him.

Sally Olson, who is a social worker, related a story recently about a telephone call she received at work one day.

After answering, the caller didn't say anything in reply.

"I just knew it was Daniel," she said. "I could hear the anxiety, so much of it that he wasn't even able to get any words out."

She said she rushed home to help her son deal with the type of situation from which the average person might only suffer a mild amount of stress.

"We want people to know that if someone like him can have these problems, that it can happen to anybody," Jeff Olson said. "Don't be afraid to ask for help.

"Too many people get themselves in a dark hole and try to deal with it by themselves, because there's that stigma that you're weak if you ask for help."

Members of this year's Ishpeming varsity football team, who were sophomores, freshmen and eighth graders when Daniel Olson guided his Hematites to Detroit, both knew and looked up with respect at their fallen compatriot.

And they've remembered him all season, including on the eve of a return downstate, by wearing wristbands with "Do It For Daniel" on them.

"Every game when we meet afterward, when the team breaks to go in the locker room, they say 'Do It For Daniel,'" Jeff Olson said.

The team has had to deal with several other deaths, too, including that of starting quarterback Alex Briones' older brother Derrick in 2011, when he was 18, and that of an Ishpeming youth football player, Christopher "Bubba" Croley, on the day before his 14th birthday in October due to a traffic accident in Wisconsin. Croley's two sisters are members of the Hematites' varsity girls basketball team.

"This is a great group we have," Jeff Olson said about his varsity football team. "And I think these tragedies have made them even stronger and has made them have even more focus.

"At the beginning of the (football season), no one knew what to do. So we sat down with them and told them you don't have to be afraid to talk about it.

"Let's use this as a learning tool. We want to let other people know they can talk about it."

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.



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