Ben Norwine displayed pinpoint passing and quick defense in Duchesne High School's 49-36 win against St. Charles West on Feb. 16. Twice in the first half, he grabbed an opponent's errant pass, dashed down the court and bounced a quick pass to teammates for easy layups.
His parents, Mark and Lisa Norwine, applauded from the stands at the home game. The last game of the regular season was Senior Night, and before the game his parents escorted him onto center court to applause as a statement was read from him thanking his parents, his teammates and his coaches. His parents beamed with pride — mom gave him a hug and dad patted him on the back.
From an early age, sports have played an important role in Ben's life. His dad was on a Missouri state Final Four basketball team at St. Charles High School and ran track and cross country. Ben was a ballboy during his brother's basketball games at Lutheran North High School.
"It's a bond between me and my dad," Ben said. "It's something we can talk about. He's the person I go to after every game. If I'm having any trouble, basketball related or not, he's the one I go to."
A cause to promote
At age 12, Ben's dad was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Ben stayed with his grandparents while his father was getting treatment, but Ben wasn't fully informed about his dad's illness. He got the full picture, however, when his brother, Eric, who also struggled with a mental health issue, featured his dad in a documentary film about mental health.
"I pieced everything together about what happened over that past year," Ben said, his voice cracking at the recollection. "I realized that my dad tried to commit suicide twice during that time. That just hit me like it's hitting me now; it's not something that goes away."
Today, his dad and brother are in recovery and doing well, back to joking around and having fun at home.
Mark Norwine, Ben's dad, walked across Missouri, inspired by his passion for the work of the Communities Healing Adolescent Depression and Suicide coalition for mental health in St. Louis. Along the walk, he stopped at schools to talk about mental health and suicide.
"I just feel like I'm a lot closer to him, maybe because of what he went through and everything he's doing now," Ben said, adding that his dad "is making a difference. He's in school talking to kids, mentoring kids. We have a couple families we help at Christmas. He connects with these kids. They have someone they can connect with."
Talking about mental illness was helpful for his family. It's also something everyone should learn about. "It's not something you can hide," Ben said. "And my dad is part of that movement to get people talking."
People don't understand, Ben said, that mental illness isn't something people can pull a person out of. "It's a process, and if you have the right people around you, which luckily my brother and my dad did, you are going to get out of it."
Ben reflects on his faith through the ordeal. "How could I not believe in God when I might not have had my dad here right now," he said, adding that he agrees with his mom's sentiment that his dad was given extra chances to live in order to do what he's doing now to get into schools and promote a message of the need for treatment.
He praises both his parents. "I'm lucky enough to have two good parents who've given me a good life and put me in a good situation here at Duchesne."
His friends have been supportive, and sports are a good release for him. "It's helped through the years in taking my mind off of things," he said.
St. Cletus connection
From fourth through eighth grades, Ben played on a basketball team in the Catholic Youth Apostolate's CYC sports program at St. Cletus Parish. It set the tone for the success of Duchesne's team, which has many he players from that CYC team. "This year is extra special," he said of their senior year together, compiling an 18-8 record as of Feb. 20.
The familiarity with his teammates makes it easier. "I can go down the lane and know exactly where Luke (Loewenstein) is going to be because he'll be in the exact same spot he's been in for eight years," he said.
He also credits his coaches, especially Duchesne's Wade Bouslog, for ensuring that the players work together.
The same group played volleyball together, and the same on-court chemistry prevailed there as well. "We took it up freshman year, and we were terrible. ... Junior year it all just clicked and we went to the Final Four," Ben said.
Highlights of the basketball season so far include a win against St. Mary's at home, a victory against Saxony Lutheran on the road, winning the Kirkwood tournament and a victory in the first district tournament game.
Ben was on the varsity basketball team his first two years but didn't play much, though he made the most of his opportunities by playing good defense and limiting mistakes. As a junior, he took over at point guard, handling the ball, getting players in the right position to score and taking a big role in practices as well.
Basketball is fun because "my friends and teammates are awesome," Ben said. "The students section and everyone around Duchesne is just awesome. High school volleyball is the same way. There's constant support from everyone."