Foundation to honor late Georgia Tech signee Bryce Gowdy launches

Bryce Gowdy, a Class of 2020 recruit from Deerfield Beach, Fla., signed with Georgia Tech on Dec. 18, 2019. Less than two weeks later he died. (Georgia Tech Athletics)

Bryce Gowdy, a Class of 2020 recruit from Deerfield Beach, Fla., signed with Georgia Tech on Dec. 18, 2019. Less than two weeks later he died. (Georgia Tech Athletics)

Shibbon Winelle wants her son’s life to have greater meaning. So do friends who loved him. Their instrument will be the Bryce Gowdy Foundation, created to honor the late Georgia Tech signee who is said to have taken his own life Dec. 30, days before he was to enroll at Tech.

The not-for-profit organization has two primary initiatives, one focused on suicide prevention and the other on providing training opportunities for high-school football players. It will be led by Gowdy’s friends, most of whom are college-bound freshmen who were in Gowdy’s class at Deerfield Beach (Fla.) High. Gowdy, a star wide receiver, graduated from Deerfield Beach in December and was to enroll early at Tech before he died by suicide, according to authorities. The death jolted his south Florida community as well as the Yellow Jackets team and fan base.

“I just hope that out of this loss, out of this experience, that my family is going through, that we’re going to be able to help others,” Winelle told the AJC. “I feel like that’s the only way to make sure that what happened with Bryce isn’t just something that happened in vain. I think our family’s story touches on so many levels that we can create change across a few platforms, not just in the sports world, but in the mental health world, too.”

The foundation's first event will be held Friday, an online conference that will address suicide prevention. Winelle is scheduled to participate, as are three mental-health experts and four close friends of Gowdy's.

Winelle described her family as mental-health advocates and said that she and her three sons had been in therapy from 2010 through 2017 with occasional breaks. Bryce, she said, also was active in meditation and other forms of coping such as art therapy.

“Bryce had a very disciplined meditation practice,” Winelle said. “As a matter of fact, I think his practice became more disciplined than mine.”

Last year, Winelle said she encouraged her eldest son to seek therapy with his anticipated transition to college and other life changes.

“I felt like it was good for him to have somebody to talk to that was unbiased, to tend to his personal feelings and emotions in regards to that,” she said.

However, Winelle said, when she sought out resources, such as those at the school, “we just kind of got lost in the system.”

Winelle said the aim of the suicide-prevention initiative is to “start getting people comfortable with mental-health terms, getting them comfortable with the idea that mental health is a normal part of health and to remove the stigma surrounding mental health.”

The football initiative aims to provide high-school players with opportunities for camps, training and 7-on-7 games (an offseason competition that Gowdy cherished, Winelle said). The group’s leaders also want to raise funds for concussion research, a health issue also important to Gowdy, as he had suffered a concussion last season, according to his mother.

Winelle said that about 30 of Gowdy’s friends have roles in the foundation, including his girlfriend, Camellia Robinson. The idea hatched days after Gowdy’s death. It took on greater urgency, Winelle said, after the deaths of two more Deerfield Beach students.

On Feb. 1, a teammate of Gowdy’s, Terrance Jackson, was shot during a fight after his grandfather’s funeral and later died. On Feb. 24, a classmate and friend of Gowdy’s, Alexis Marion, took her life in the same manner that authorities say Gowdy did.

There are additional plans for other talks such as Friday's, on topics such as art therapy and meditation, and also for a scholarship in his name. The website was recently launched.

“I can definitely say that just being surrounded by Bryce’s friends has been really instrumental in my healing process, as well as my boys,” Winelle said.

Winelle, who had dealt with homelessness before her son’s death, said that her family moved into a long-term residence in February. Online donations originally intended to help cover funeral expenses reached almost $125,000, which enabled Winelle and her two sons to have the means for stable housing.

Winelle said she has been focusing on her two surviving sons, Brisai and Brayden.

Being quarantined, she said, “has contributed to our healing rather than hindered it. It’s definitely, I think, helped a lot.”

If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, call or text the 24-hour hotline at 800-273-8255. For more information, go to