By KIMBERLY WEINBERG
Zach and Katie Weart Sekulovski at his commencement.
When Katie Weart Sekulovski ’02 was 6 years old, she got a real live baby doll, her little brother Zach ’09, blue eyes, blond hair and all.
“He was my little baby doll,” she said, “and I used to carry him around.” While she could, that is. Zach grew to be a solid kid, wrestling at 189 pounds at Bradford Area High School.
Sekulovski had an older brother, Jacob, and another younger brother, Adam, but she remained particularly close to Zach.
He visited her at Pitt-Bradford when she was a student in the nursing program, then followed in her footsteps to attend Pitt-Bradford and major in criminal justice. He was in the first group of students to use the Crime Scene Investigation House in the fall of 2008 and led one of the first investigation teams.
He wore his leadership role naturally, already looking the part of the law enforcement officer he hoped to become.
“He had all the potential in the world,” Sekulovski said, “and I think he was the only one who didn’t know it.”
Four days shy of his 23rd birthday, he took his own life.
For Sekulovski and her family, it was the second time they’d lost a son and brother; her brother Jacob had committed suicide when he was 15.
“I think that’s why it had always seemed like an option to Zach,” she said.
Zach was so fun and charismatic and confident that most outside her family never saw it coming. He had even played softball the night he died.
Sekulovski said that Weart just hadn’t been himself the day before when the family gathered to celebrate the first birthday of Zach’s daughter, Savannah. She thinks he had already made up his mind to take his own life. Even 2 ½ years after his death, she spends a lot of time conjecturing what, after years of mental health problems and suicide attempts, drove him this final time.
He’d spent the summer after graduation doing manual labor in the oil fields to make some money, just as he had each summer he was in college. The job fell through and he was only a short way into a search for a job in law enforcement.
“I think he was overwhelmed,” she said. “The warning signs were blatant and obvious, but your hands are so tied.”
Zach had made his first attempt at suicide while still in elementary .
For a while in his late teens, he was on medication, but Sekulovski said he often managed not to take it and fought treatment. She tried listening; she tried forcing; she tried pleading.
When Zach died, Sekulovski said she was both frustrated at how little she had been able to do for him and motivated to try to help other families from losing a loved one to suicide. The answer, she thought, would be to do something to help raise awareness and break down the stigma of mental health issues and suicide.
She wanted to do something to make it a little easier for others suffering from mental illness to seek help. She wanted to do it in a way that was not a traditional awareness event so that she could reach people that traditional events don’t.
She wanted to hold an event that would have no stigma, and then sort of just have the message present.
That’s when the “It’s Not Too Late” softball tournament was born. The proceeds benefit the Zach Weart Memorial Scholarship Fund at Pitt-Bradford. This summer will mark the tournament’s third year.
Weart was an avid softball player, and Ron Bacha of the Bradford City Softball League in which he played helped Sekulogski pull the tournament together.
Sekulogski said she wanted to make sure the tournament didn’t turn her brother into a model for other young people contemplating suicide, so she purposely did not use his name for the tournament.
Instead, she took the name of the tournament from a song by the band Three Days Grace. She ordered T-shirts, bright yellow rubber wristbands, flyers, posters and candles for a candlelight memorial.
“Just seeing the word ‘suicide’ makes people a tiny bit less repelled by it,” she said. “It’s something that should be acknowledged.”
Businesses and individuals gave generously for raffles and a concession stand and by buying 50-50 tickets.
The first tournament was held a year after the time of Weart’s death and birthday. Little Savannah is now 3 1/2.
“She’s so much like him,” Sekulogski said. “She’s built like him – solid with red curly hair, and she’s got his stubborn streak.
“Zach couldn’t see how much people loved him and cared for him, and I don’t know how he could have left his daughter. He probably felt unworthy to be her dad. I can almost hear us having a conversation like that.”
Of course she can’t have that conversation now, but she’s prepared to tell Savannah how much she loved her father and how important it is to get help.