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    Saturday, December 03, 2022

    Sober Softball Tournament returning to Groton Saturday

    Frankie Taylor, 52, died Aug. 29, 2019, in New London. "He was a family man to his core. He was a loving and devoted father to four children. Frankie was well known for his sense of fashion. You would never catch him in the same outfit twice." Outside of his deep love for his family, Frankie was known for his flashy smile, fantastic sense of humor, and generosity." (Submitted photo)

    Groton — Softball teams named in memory of eight men and women who died following struggles with substance abuse disorders are scheduled to compete at Washington Park on Saturday during Community Speaks Out's fifth annual Christopher Johns Memorial Sober Softball Tournament.

    This year's teams are honoring Harry Dumond, Chris Glass, Caleb Harris, Bobby Machol, Patrick Rogers, Gerrie Shaw, Frankie Taylor and Sarah Mae Williams.

    The tournament will run from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

    Off the field, there will be food, games, a raffle, guests from the Connecticut Sun basketball team, and an abundance of compassion, according to Ashley Wallace, lead organizer.

    Drug overdose deaths have been climbing steadily in Connecticut and the nation in recent years as opioid addiction deepened, and increasingly potent drugs, including fentanyl, hit the streets. According to the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, 877 people have died from opioid overdoses thus far this year. From 2015 to 2020, the number of annual deaths in the state increased from 728 to 1,369.

    The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on the community as a whole, as well as people who are struggling with addiction, Wallace said.

    "Isolation is your worst enemy, and it's been pushed on them," she said in a phone interview. "It's made it harder for you to see hope and feel the love and support from people outside of that lifestyle. And for people in recovery, it's the same thing. In the beginning, (recovery) meetings were all virtual, and there was that lack of connection."

    Some of the meetings are back to being held in person, Wallace said.

    The tournament is named for Christopher Johns, a Montville man who struggled for years before dying from a heroin overdose, at age 33, on Oct. 2, 2014. His mother, Lisa Cote Johns, was a founding member of Community Speaks Out.

    The tournament was canceled last year due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, and Wallace said she wants this year's event to be more special than ever.

    "We are trying to do it a little bit bigger in the sense of emotion and camaraderie and shining a light in the darkness," she said.

    To encourage a sense of inclusivity for everyone who attends, Wallace said she's incorporating an exercise called "What's your color?" that she learned about at last week's suicide awareness walk in Niantic. Upon arrival, each person will be asked to decide what color wrist band they want to wear to represent their situation, whether it's the loss of a child, loss of a loved one, person in recovery or somebody who is just there to learn.

    "This will enable people to connect without having to ask a lot of questions," she said. "There will be a sense of, 'I'm not alone, and I've been through the same thing you have.'"

    k.florin@theday.com

    Caleb Harris, 24, of Groton died May 21, 2018. "He was a loving son, brother, and friend. He was passionate about his family, sports, and Groton's local football team. After losing his mother to cancer, his turned his life upside down. At 17 he began to self-medicate his pain. He always managed to keep a smile on his face and loved to make people laugh. He tried very hard to turn his life around at the end of his life but due to insurance, he was forced to come home where he ultimately lost his battle to addiction. He left behind his loving father, brothers and sisters and many friends. He shared a special bond with his brother who has Autism and was dedicated to helping take care of him. Addiction did not define Caleb; it just took his life." (Submitted photo)
    Sara Mae Denison Williams, 37, of Moosup died on July 3, 2018. "She was a daughter, mother, niece, cousin and friend. She was a creative artist and passionately talented musician. She was an easy-going free spirit, who enjoyed nature and all of its splendor. Forever loved and missed, our beautiful Sara Mae." (Submitted photo)
    Harry Dumond, 27, of Montville died Nov. 3, 2019. He was "a son, father and brother, known for his huge heart and hard work ethic, including his Masonry craft. Harry was so strong, funny, beautiful and courageous. He fought his addiction for 10 years. A fallen warrior is still a warrior. Forever missed." (Submitted photo)
    Bobby Machol, 31, of Old Lyme died June 10, 2020. "He was born with a curious mind, that stuck with him his whole life. He always had a thirst for an intellectual conversation, and to learn something new. He loved anything outdoors; hiking, crabbing, camping, live music, or just a fire surrounded by friends. Bobby had a gentle, but troubled soul, and is terribly missed." (Submitted photo)
    Gerrie Shaw, 60, of Willimantic died Nov. 16, 2020. "You knew immediately after meeting Gerrie that she was a kind, giving and nurturing soul. She spent her career helping individuals with special needs, often bringing them home and making them a part of our family. She dedicated her life to raising her children Tommy and Jennifer, and helping to raise her granddaughter, Ashley. Her unwavering love for family and the friends she considered family is heavily missed. Her battle with alcoholism was a long journey but she never stopped fighting. May she rest in paradise while dancing away in heaven." (Submitted photo)
    Patrick Rogers, 37, of Norwich died July 29, 2020. "Patrick was born 4/16/83 in Norfolk, Va. Born 3 months early at only 2lbs 5oz, he was a fighter from the beginning. As a child growing up in Groton, Patrick loved to explore the trails at Bluff Point, ride his bike, fish, and hang out with his sisters and friends. Patrick studied culinary arts at Grasso Tech and after graduation he spent most of his career in the restaurant industry. Patrick was kind, creative, funny and always had a quick comeback. Patrick's drug use began at the age of 16 and except for brief periods of sobriety, he battled addiction for his whole adult life. A Fentanyl overdose took his life after achieving one year sober just 3 weeks prior.  We will continue to talk about Patrick and will always honor his memory.  He is missed tremendously." (Submitted photo)
    Chris Glass, 46, of Middletown died July 6, 2020. "He was a loving father and hard worker. He was funny, witty and one of the most intelligent people you would ever meet. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him. Though we can never know or understand what God's plan is for anyone, may we find some solace is knowing that Chris is still with us through all the lives he has touched and through his beautiful son." (Submitted photo)
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