Morgan Urso was told she could no longer be part of Team Illinois Hockey after she disclosed her experience with depression and suicidal thoughts.
Morgan Urso tried many sports as a young child and didn’t like any of them. Everything changed at age 10 when she went to hockey practice with her brother.
“I ended up loving the game,” Morgan said. “The feeling of the fresh air hitting my face every shift is a feeling that I’d take any day.”
Now a high school sophomore, Morgan’s zeal for the game took a hit when her club hockey team unexpectedly banned her from practice, games and team activities.
The Urso family, who lives in La Grange, recently sued Team Illinois Hockey and the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois for disability discrimination, claiming Morgan was suspended after she told a coach about her mental illness.
During her freshman year in 2019, Morgan experienced a severe depressive episode, resulting in her going to an outpatient program and being given new medication.
Morgan said her coach, Team Illinois Hockey Director Larry Pedrie, was initially supportive. “He said if I needed to be an assistant coach on the bench with him or if I wanted to go out and skate or miss, I could do whatever I needed to,” Morgan said.
Morgan’s mother, Kelly Urso, said she received a call the next day and was informed that Pedrie had spoken with Mike Mullally, USA hockey director at the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois, and they had decided to bar Morgan from all Team Illinois practices, games and other activities.
“I remember saying, ‘What?’ a lot, like, how did he decide this,” Urso said. “He just kept saying, ‘I have [Team Illinois’] full board support, this is what AHAI has advised us to do.’ I ended up hanging up on him because I got so emotional.”
Urso said a few hours later she heard from other parents on the team that Pedrie told them and their children not to communicate with Morgan until she was able to provide a doctor’s note clearing her to participate in 100% of team activities.
Pedrie’s email to parents of players expressed a desire to keep kids from “carrying the burden of a teammate’s personal struggle.”
“We were mad, disappointed and hurt,” Urso said. “We had come from programs where hockey was your family, and to have this be the reaction, we were just confused.”
Morgan, who missed a month of ice time, was allowed to finish the season after the Ursos hired lawyer Charlie Wysong, a partner at Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym Ltd. However, Morgan said she was “super uncomfortable” being around her coach and constantly felt nervous back on the team.
In spring 2020, the Urso family filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. The department investigated but declined to pursue a case against the team or the hockey association.
On April 20, Morgan and her parents filed a lawsuit in DuPage County Circuit Court against Team Illinois Hockey and AHAI for discriminating against her on the basis of disability.
“We’re not allowed to banish people who are depressed or anxious or have suicidal thoughts,” Wysong said. “That’s not OK.”
The Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois and its lawyer declined to comment on the lawsuit. Pedrie did not respond to several requests for comment.
Urso said the family sued to prevent other families from undergoing a similar situation. She said there should be policies and procedures in place to support children experiencing mental health issues in youth sports and proper training for coaches.
“We hope that it will help youth sports recognize that this is a major issue, especially after COVID-19, that kids are dealing with a lot of mental health issues,” Wysong said.
Morgan, a center, returned to the ice for the 2020-21 season with a former hockey team. This year, Morgan plans to try out for a St. Louis AAA Blues hockey team.
She has also started working with the #SameHere Global Mental Health Movement, which aims to raise awareness about and provide resources for those dealing with mental illness.
In forming “Team Morgan,” the Urso family raised and donated more than $50,000 to #SameHere for mental health treatment.
“Anyone out there struggling is never alone,” Morgan said. “There’s always someone to talk to, whether it’s me, or a friend or a parent. And don’t be afraid to go to your coach.”