Tragedy to triumph: how a Utah family is honoring their son

Jan 26, 2023, 10:03 PM | Updated: Jan 28, 2023, 6:03 pm

It is still way too early for outdoor baseball. However, the Smuin family wanted to show us where their son CJ was an all-star.

“As an athlete, he was a leader. He was a natural leader. People rallied around CJ,” his father, Pat Smuin said.

CJ has had many memorable moments at Gardner Field in Helper. It hurts the family to know he won’t have any more.

“The loss of CJ was, you know, I just can’t explain the hurt,” Pat Smuin said.

It’s difficult for Smuin to talk about that night, two years ago, when his 15-year-old son CJ had a dark moment and died by suicide.

“Even on the day that CJ took his own life, he got up off the couch, gave me a hug, and kissed me on the cheek before I left for work,” he said. “It takes a piece of your heart away and that piece of your heart will never come back. It might heal and it might scab over, but it never comes back.”

CJ played lots of sports as a kid. Baseball is what he was really good at.

His family is thankful for all the video and pictures they have of him playing.

They’ve also started to realize looking at these memories brings them more smiles than tears.

“CJ wouldn’t want us living in sorrow and pain and living the rest of our lives that way,” Pat Smuin said. “So, somehow we had to try to turn something so bad into something good.”

That is exactly what the family did.

They formed a non-profit to create a scholarship in CJ’s name for students at Carbon High School in Price.

The money raised for those scholarships comes from an annual instructional baseball camp for kids and teens.

Professional and college coaches come to the camp to teach young baseball players.

Last year, 120 kids were at the camp. However, the camp isn’t just about hitting a baseball.

“Baseball is the carrot that gets them there, but really why we want them there is for the banquet and the speeches,” Zac Jones, who is CJ’s cousin said.

After the baseball camp, there is a dinner and banquet. Part of the banquet includes speeches about suicide and suicide awareness.

It’s a topic that is tough to talk about.

“I want these kids to know it’s okay to tell somebody when you don’t feel right,” Nicole Smuin, who is CJ’s mother said. “I never want someone to feel what CJ felt and what we have felt.”

Last year was the first camp, and when those talks began, the family said you could hear a pin drop.

“I had no idea this was such a huge problem and such a huge issue,” Nicole Smuin said.

This weekend, more than 160 kids, and their parents, will hear those speeches during the family’s second indoor baseball camp.

“I just think anymore, we just can’t let this go and I think it’s something we got to talk about,” Pat Smuin said.

Talking about it just might save the next kid.

“Maybe there’s that one kid out there that maybe has that little thought, but he’s like, you know what? I’m not going to go there. I’m going to talk to my parents. I’m going to talk to my coach or teachers or whoever,” Pat Smuin said. “CJ still has a purpose in this world. I’ll always miss him, but he is always with me.”

Suicide prevention resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call, text, or chat the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 which is answered 24/7/365 by crisis counselors at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. All calls to legacy crisis hotlines, including the old National Suicide Prevention hotline, 1-800-273-8255, will also connect to a crisis care worker at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute as well.

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Tragedy to triumph: how a Utah family is honoring their son