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Softball tournament to remember those who have died of opioid overdoses

Groton — Ashley Shaw Giordano had no trouble finding people to honor at this coming Saturday's third installment of the Christopher Johns Memorial Sober Softball Tournament.

Ten teams will take to the baseball diamond at Washington Park wearing shirts that display the names and ages of people who lost their lives to opioid overdoses. 

Among the players in the tournament hosted by the nonprofit group Community Speaks Out will be those who continue to grieve the loss of family members and friends, people in recovery and those who want to help stem the epidemic that is projected by the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to take 1,030 lives in Connecticut in 2018.

Giordano, who will celebrate 2 1/2 years of recovery next month, took over organization of the tournament last year following the death of her friend Joey Gingerella, whom she had met in recovery. Gingerella, whose struggle with pain pill addiction had inspired his parents to start Community Speaks Out, was fatally shot on Dec. 11, 2016.

Giordano, who is 24, had two friends who were honored at last year's tournament and this year has two more, David Whelan and Kaitlyn Knapp. Another honoree, Damien Perretta, was the father of her best friend. So much loss is overwhelming, but Giordano said her friends would have wanted her to be well. She said she is participating in a twelve-step recovery program, hanging out with like-minded people and staying involved in positive efforts, such as organizing the softball tournament.

"This tournament helps," she said. "For me, it's a way of honoring Joey, who started it. It also helps because it's something positive to come from such a negative thing. It also really helps for me, because I talk to parents on a daily basis who have lost their children, and it makes me realize where my dad would be if something happened to me."

"Being clean and sober has definitely changed my life for the better," Giordano said. "There's a lot of hard days, but my hardest day clean and sober is better than my best day using. Every sacrifice has been worth it."

The tournament begins at 9 a.m. and will run through 9 p.m., with more than 15 games taking place on the field. There will be two food trucks, raffles and yard games, including corn hole, can jam and volleyball. A candle light vigil for all those who are suffering and have died is planned for the end of the day. 

"The whole point is for it to be a community event," Giordano said. "For everyone to come together and shine a light on such a dark time, to have fun and to erase the stigma (surrounding addiction). The stigma is what holds so many back from getting help."

Proceeds from the event will be used by Community Speaks Out to help get people into treatment. The rain date is Oct. 6.

Lisa Cote Johns, for whose son the tournament is named, said the tournament could eventually become a two-day affair because of the number of people who are suffering. Her son, Christopher Johns, died on Oct. 2, 2014, overdosing on mixture of drugs in a New London sober house. She is being treated for complicated grief that is sometimes disabling, Johns said, but is going to try to attend as much of the tournament as she can.

"When the families come and show support of their loved one, you know what they're feeling," she said. "You know they're early in their recovery. Just knowing the pain they are going through takes your breath away because you know the road they have to walk down."

If you go:

What: Christopher Johns Memorial Sober Softball Tournament

When: Saturday, Sept. 29, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Where: Washington Park, 155 Meridian St., Groton




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