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‘UnLocke the Light’ basketball classic returns with more teams, bigger goals for mental-health awareness

Sean Locke's brothers and sisters display the total amount of money the SL24 Memorial Classic raised last year for mental health awareness. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)

The SL24 Memorial Basketball Classic returns to the 76ers Fieldhouse for its second year on Feb. 8, and it has grown in scope and ambition over the past 12 months.

“I think the exciting part is not only that we expanded to 11 schools, but 11 different schools. We have Catholic schools, we have private high schools and we have public high schools. It’s also now a statewide event,” said Chris Locke, whose late son, Sean, is the “SL24” referenced in the name of the event.

Sean Locke was a four-year starter at Saint Mark’s, still the only freshman to start for coach Nick Sanna since he took over before Sean’s freshman season. He graduated in 2012 and went on to play at the University of Delaware. He had a job with the Buccini/Pollin Group, but he suffered from depression and committed suicide in the summer of 2018.

Chris Locke and his family began the event last year as a way to raise awareness of mental health and money to create “Sean’s House,” a safe haven for high school and college students. According to Chris Locke, the house, located on West Main Street in Newark near the University of Delaware, is on schedule to open on Sept. 24 of this year. Sean Locke wore number 24 at both Saint Mark’s and Delaware.

“It’s going to be a place where high school and college kids can get help for depression and anxiety. We’ll have peer support for those kids, as well as professional support. We’re looking forward to really making a difference in the community,” he said.

Last year’s inaugural classic included four games, two junior varsity and two varsity, with the Saint Mark’s boys taking on rival Salesianum in the last game. The Spartans defeated the Sals that night in front of a capacity crowd, ending a nine-year losing streak in the series.

More importantly, the event raised more than $208,000 for the UnLocke the Light Foundation, which was created after Sean’s death. The foundation’s objectives are to educate young people about the signs of depression, remove its stigma and make resources available. Over the past year, according to the foundation, more than 3,500 students received information on mental health.

Representatives from UnLocke the Light have spoken at several area high schools and colleges, and they have had presentations with various agencies and at other events. The foundation also has raised money through participation in road races and high school sporting matches, and it has lobbied for state and federal legislation.

This year’s SL24 Memorial Classic consists of six varsity boys and girls games beginning at 11 a.m. Those involving Catholic schools include Ursuline vs. Padua at 12:45 p.m.; Archmere vs. Saint Mark’s girls at 5 p.m.; and Salesianum vs. Saint Mark’s in the final game at 8:30 p.m. The other three games, all boys, include Glasgow vs. St. Georges at 11 a.m.; Cape Henlopen vs. Appoquinimink at 2:30 p.m.; and St. Andrew’s vs. Sanford at 6:45 p.m.

Tickets are being sold for either the first or second session individually, or for all six games. A single-session ticket is $15.24, while all six games costs $24.24. For tickets or more information about the classic or the foundation, go to www.unlockethe light.com.

Chris Locke said the foundation is hoping to attract between 5-6,000 fans to the 76ers Fieldhouse for the event.

“The excitement has been unbelievable this year. It’s looking very positive. We’re looking for a great day,” he said.