Kym Hilinski treasures endless memories of her son, her beloved Tyler, the Washington State University quarterback who died by suicide in January. One of the best was a walk with him back to her Pullman hotel after the Cougs beat Boise State in triple overtime.
His team was down 21 points in the fourth quarter last Sept. 9. As backup quarterback, he completed several passes for the 47-44 win. Tyler Hilinski, the comeback hero who wore No. 3, was carried off the field by ecstatic teammates.
And then the athlete his family called “Sweet T” walked his mom to her hotel. She remembers him asking, “Did that really happen?”
On Saturday, “Coug Day” for Everett AquaSox fans, Kym Hilinski will be at the ballpark to accompany her nephews, 16-year-old Andrew Lombardi and Aidan Lombardi, 14, as they throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Boise Hawks game. The teens live in California.
Her Everett visit will help spread the word about Hilinski’s Hope Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to honor Tyler and erase the stigma surrounding mental illness. His family created the foundation in the horrifying days after Tyler, 21, shot himself in his Pullman apartment Jan. 16.
“The mission is to raise awareness — and I think we’re doing that,” said Hilinski, 53, who lives in Southern California. Rather than dwell on the “why” of losing Tyler, she said, Hilinski’s Hope is about “how.” How can young people, especially student athletes, be helped?
The nonprofit, she said, will fund programs to help those who might be struggling. “Tyler was never diagnosed or treated for any disease, but through his suicide we understand that he was suffering in silence,” says the foundation website.
The family learned, after a Mayo Clinic study of Tyler’s brain, that he had suffered from CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which has been associated with head injuries from playing football. “We know it’s a piece of this puzzle,” she said.
She and her husband, Mark Hilinski, raised three quarterbacks. Kelly Hilinski, 23, no longer plays college football. He is a pre-med student at Weber State University in Utah, where he once was quarterback. He also played for Columbia University. He now plans to focus on neurology, his mother said.
And 17-year-old Ryan Hilinski is a star quarterback at Orange Lutheran High School. Already committed to play at the University of South Carolina, he aims to graduate early to start college. His parents plan a move to South Carolina.
Football is “this sport we love,” said Kym Hilinski, whose youngest boy has no intention of quitting the game. “So many great things have come from it. It taught my son so many lessons. His best friends were his teammates. No one knew he had issues. He absolutely wasn’t well.”
She suspects there was a change in Tyler after WSU’s losing game against Arizona last October. A Sports Illustrated article by Greg Bishop, published June 26, said Tyler had told his brother, Kelly, that a hard hit in that game “rocked him.”
A year after Tyler’s triumph over Boise State, he will be honored at WSU’s home opener Sept. 8 against San Jose State. The next day, his mother said, WSU players and coaches will hear encouraging words in a training provided by Hilinski’s Hope.
In the weeks leading up to Saturday’s AquaSox game, she was in touch with WSU North Puget Sound in Everett. Tyler’s loss was mourned by WSU students and alumni here, as well as in Pullman and around the state and country. Randy Bolerjack, a spokesman for WSU in Everett, noted that in January students here signed a Cougar flag that was sent to the Hilinski family.
“Tyler was a sweetheart,” his mother said. If she was stressed by her boys’ hectic schedules, he was the one to calm her down. He’d bring a bouquet of flowers when she arrived in Pullman for a game. “He was the guy every teacher loved, and every girl in the classroom loved,” she said.
They went skydiving together. “Now Kelly and I call it Ty-diving. Everything is about Tyler now. What we’re doing is called a Tyler talk,” Hilinski said during our phone interview.
Hilinski’s Hope is known as far away as London. A Seattle Seahawks fan group there, the UK Seahawkers, plans to raise money for the foundation and hand out Hilinski’s Hope wristbands when the Hawks play the Raiders in London on Oct. 14.
Tyler’s legacy lives on with the effort to remove any shame related to getting help for depression or other mental illness. “Cancer, it’s a disease. There’s not a stigma attached to that,” Hilinski said.
“We’ll continue to tell Tyler’s story,” she said. “Something good is going to come out of this tragedy.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@herald net.com.
Hilinski’s Hope at AquaSox game
Kym Hilinski will accompany her nephews as they throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the AquaSox game at 7:05 p.m. Saturday, which is “Coug Day” at the ballpark. Hilinski is the mother of the late Tyler Hilinski, a Washington State University quarterback who died by suicide Jan. 16.
Hilinski and her family founded Hilinski’s Hope Foundation, a nonprofit to honor Tyler and bring attention to mental health. Information: https://hilinskishope.org