Mental Health Awareness, a personal cause for Secaucus High School Coach Bill Kvalheim
While growing up in Hazlet, New Jersey, Bill Kvalheim played every sport, whether it was soccer, baseball or football. After attending Holy Family Elementary School from pre-school to 8th grade, Kvalheim moved on to Raritan High School where he discovered an interest in football.
“I was a Jersey Shore kid, two older sisters and sports was X’s and O’s for me,” said Kvalheim. “I thought it was important for me to play sports in building character and doing something active. I looked up to Mike Nunes at Raritan and tried to emulate him. A hard-nosed and worker who ended up playing baseball at Montclair State.”
While attending Raritan High School, Kvalheim played football and basketball, winning a couple of state titles on the hardwood. “Coach (Robert) Generelli was a remarkable coach and Shore Conference Hall of Fame and Anthony Petruzzi,” Kvalheim said. “I played basketball for Coach (Denis) Caruano.”
After graduating from high school in 2007, Kvalheim wanted to stay close to home and Kean University football coach Dan Garrett that made the final decision a no-brainer. “Coach Garrett is really the one who knocked it out of the park for me,” said Kvalheim. “He is remarkable, best motivator and one of a kind. He is such a good coach and person and cares about his athletes.”
For Kvalheim, it was not solely about athletics. Majoring in Physical Education, he had to juggle the responsibilities of a student-athlete.
“When you are in high school, you have no idea,” Kvalheim said. “At the Division III level you are on a strict level, you rarely have time for a break and whether it’s the weight room, spring ball, up at 5:45 a.m., classes, lunch, meetings, practice, dinner and another meeting. The schedule is not for everybody and that’s why you see a lot of these student-athletes get to that point whether or not it’s for them. It’s a rarity for a student-athlete to make it through four years and give it up after one of two years.”
However, life for Kvalheim would change drastically during his senior year. While vacationing in the Bahamas, Kvalheim started experiencing a rapid heart beat and difficulty breathing. He would later be diagnosed with anxiety.
“I was playing football my whole life, moving, doing something constantly and then had nothing to do,” said Kvalheim.
After graduating from Kean University in 2011, Kvalheim faced another obstacle – finding a job in the physical education field. He would become a long-term employee in the Freehold Boro Physical Education Department and also spent time as a custodian in Hazlet. Kvalheim also returned to his alma mater Raritan High School, where he would coach three sports from 2013 to 2014.
“I couldn’t get a job for two years, went on multiple interviews and was to the point where I thought about giving it up and was to the point where I was the finalist for numerous jobs,“ Kvalheim said. “I sent out thousands of e-mail’s and resumes. Looking for a job in college, recruiting jobs and looking everywhere.”
“I have seen my father battle cancer and other people fight through things. You got to handle the adversity and when backed into a corner and start swinging, keep going and battling. You keep you head down, working, making sure you have your head on straight and knocking the door down. If nobody is answering, try to take it down.”
Building up his experience furthermore, Kvalheim made a triumphant return to the Kean football program by becoming the Cougars defensive backs coach in 2015. During that timeframe, Kavalheim caught a major break when Charlie Voorhees at Secaucus High School offered him a Physical Education teacher job. In 2017, Kvalheim linked up with Dan Sabella at Paramus Catholic as the wide receivers coach. In his 6th year with Secaucus High School, Kvalheim coaches football, basketball and track.
“Athletics is what I know, physical education and health I have done my whole life,” said Kvalheim. “It keeps me busy and I enjoy it. I’m a firm believer in competitiveness and kids being to battle through things and adversity. It brings out a lot of character. Being a teacher involved in the community and athletes and teaching skills and moral development is a very important. Making sure the kids are the doing the right thing and their best in making the right decisions. To be surrounded by great people in the town of Secaucus and administration is great.”
Just when life was stabilizing for Kvalheim, two to three years ago he was diagnosed with depression. Within the past year Kvalheim and his wife Ciara established, “Tackle Depression”. “One of the toughest hills I had to go through and not having a job is not comparable,“ Kvalheim said. “I didn’t think mental health was a real thing and under the impression to get over it was well until it started happening to me.” An everyday battle, you have to make sure you wake up with a clean slate. If you need to talk to somebody and are not feeling well go see a doctor. Staying on top of things that make you feel good, being pro-active and even keel.”
“I really did a good job of hiding it when it first came out and a lot of former coaches I worked with reached out to me and had no idea I was struggling. I was nervous how the coaching profession would react but the support has been a bit overwhelming and people have reached out to me and told me about the issues they deal with on a daily basis and struggling in their lives. The support from the media, coaches, faculty, students’, and buddies back home has been remarkable.”
“The number focus for Tackle Depression is with Mental Awareness Week in October every year and the goal is to have a huge campaign during the week where we send out patches to coaches to wear on their sleeves. We have helmet sticker, posters and text to donate and what we want to accomplish on the Friday night of that week with all programs in New Jersey and across the county to spread awareness about mental health.”
Back on February 9, Kvalheim and his wife Ciara had the opportunity to spread the word about “Tackle Depression” on a bigger stage by teaming up with the New York Guardians of the XFL. “It was a great experience, the exposure was phenomenal and a great game,” said Kvalheim. “I did not know what to expect and wasn’t familiar with the XFL before.”
“Getting the word out about someone who is feeling a certain way and understands they are not alone. I had to step up to the plate and talk about it. I have been lucky to coach alongside a lot of great leaders. The more exposure the better and people hear about it. Giving back is the number one thing.”
For Kvalheim, the number one support system has been his family, especially Ciara, hismother and father. “My wife is the number one supporter and aspiration,” Kvalheim said. “Anyone that can deal with me on a daily basis is a saint.”
“My parents’ have been nothing but supportive and have worked hard their whole lives. My mother working hard for a long time in a physical therapy office. My father, a union dock builder for 40 years and Vietnam veteran. He ended up getting into maintenance for the Hazlet school district and just retired from that job. He is still doing electric work and can’t sit still and where I get my work ethic from. Seeing them be able to provide me with all the opportunities and you really can’t thank your parents’ enough for that type of thing.”
Sunil Sunder Raj
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