South Jersey Softball Teams Join Together for Addiction Awareness

"This is what recovery is about. The fellowship, supporting each other, having a good time."

It might not have been the best day for a ballgame — the sky was overcast and occasionally a mist would blanket Campbell's Field in Camden.

But those gathered to play in the inaugural Recovery Softball Tournament Friday didn't seem to mind, as they lobbed fluorescent yellow balls around two diamonds set up in the outfield, chowed down on hot dogs, burgers and soft pretzels and cheered the flat PING! of each metal bat as it met the pitch.

Six teams comprised of people in recovery, members of the Camden County Addiction Awareness Task Force, law enforcement personnel and others who work with addicts, came together to play and show solidarity with those still struggling with addiction.

"This is what recovery is about," said Glenn Meyers, playing with Steps for Recovery, an addiction treatment center in Levittown, Pennsylvania. "The fellowship, supporting each other, having a good time."

It's something he'd never be able to do while in the throes of addiction, said the Bristol, Pennsylvania resident, now in his 20th month of sobriety.

"When I was using, I didn't want to be around anyone, and no one wanted to be around me," he told the Courier-Post of Cherry Hill.

"Stuff like this is great, to get everyone together," said Chris Czaplinski, now 7½ months sober and living in a three-quarter house in Woodbury. The South Plainfield native said this is the longest he's been able to maintain his sobriety and he's spent some of that time playing in a softball league for others in recovery.

Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli, liaison to the addiction awareness task force, donned a purple shirt for his team and talked about its ongoing work to help stem the addiction epidemic.

"The mission is two-fold," he explained. "To raise awareness and to help people get into treatment." Programs like Operation Save A Life (SAL), introduced nearly a year ago, were progressing more slowly than originally hoped, he admitted.

The program, which offers overdose victims a chance to enter treatment after they're taken to an emergency room, began in early October 2015. Cappelli estimated about a few dozen people had taken advantage of it — a small percentage compared to the nearly 300 overdoses county-wide.

NBC10 profiled Operation SAL, Sal Marchese for whom the program is named, and the work being done by the Camden County Addiction Awareness Task Force as part of the EMMY Award winning special investigation, Generation Addicted. The multipart, multiplatform project investigated the tragic world of heroin and opioid addiction in our area and potential solutions to the epidemic. You can explore Generation Addicted here.

"We're finding that might not be the best time to approach someone about treatment," he said.

More events are planned, and the task force meets every other month to work on solutions, Cappelli said.

Joann Wrigley stood on the concourse, out of the rain, as her two sons played for Humble Beginnings, an outpatient treatment facility in Cherry Hill.

One of her sons, Elwood, works in law enforcement, while her other son, Jimmy, is a recovering addict, with three years of sobriety.

"I'm extremely proud — of both of them," she said, noting she had struggled with addiction in her own past as well.

"This means everything to Jimmy to have his brother here," she said. "Elwood showed a lot of 'tough love' with Jimmy."

Taylor Chain, once a standout softball pitcher at Gloucester High School, watched from the Outlaws bench as her team prepared to play the task force team.

Now nine months into her recovery, the 25-year-old smiled when asked how it felt to be back on the diamond.

"It's like giving back to the recovery community," she said. "It shows us it's possible to do these things again. It's amazing."

Preparing to take the field at third base, she recalled her ascent from Gloucester to Division I softball team Stony Brook — and her fall into opiate and heroin addiction.

"Coming back here, I'm able to recognize I've still got it," she smiled.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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