1/26/2013 10:00:00 PM More Than A Game For some recovering addicts in Prescott, basketball's part of saving grace
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier ORDER ON THE COURT – Most of the players on the Phillies team (red jerseys) are clients at A Sober Way Home, a drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation center in Prescott. As part of their recovery, they compete in the City of Prescott Parks and Recreation Department’s Men’s “C” Winter Basketball League.
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier Nick Sforza is a fiery standout guard for the Phillies who enjoys spending his Tuesday nights during the winter on the hardwood at Grace Sparkes Activity Center in Prescott.
PRESCOTT - It was 30 minutes before tip-off last Tuesday night, and eight young men wearing makeshift red jerseys stood in the hallway next to the gym at Grace Sparkes Activity Center waiting for another game to end.
Anxious to run onto the floor, most members of the City of Prescott Winter Basketball League Men's "C" Phillies team were chatting along the gym's east-side entryway, occasionally glancing up at the scoreboard toward the opposite end of the arena.
The second half of a contest pitting Men's "C" Downtown versus the Hawks was winding down in front of a sparse crowd.
There may be no glory for this league's players, but that's not important. Shooting hoops allows them to blow off steam while feeding that competitive fire.
Although in the Phillies' case, there's a higher purpose for hitting the hardwood on a cold evening in late January.
Playing basketball for these guys, many of whom are ages 18-25, helps them take another positive step in an often-painful recovery from substance abuse.
Several of the Phillies are residents at A Sober Way Home (ASWH), a drug-and-alcohol treatment center in Prescott.
Guard Tyler Kaczor, 20, who said he's a recovering heroin addict, is on his second stint at ASWH.
Kaczor first came here last January through May before returning home to Vermont. He stayed sober for four months, relapsed and came back to Prescott last November.
He said his addiction started in high school. During his senior year, Kaczor got kicked out after his basketball season ended.
"Once that summer came around, I really realized what drugs were doing to me, and how it was affecting not only myself but other people around me - my family," Kaczor said.
At ASWH, Kaczor's in a program that includes group therapy sessions and A.A. meetings, among other aspects. He has a sponsor and he prays for sobriety.
But Kaczor's also thankful that he can play sports again. He hopes to start working soon and eventually return to school.
"The basketball part of it (ASWH) is awesome - it's like a huge bonus, really, to the whole program," Kaczor said. "But the program in itself is awesome. It's definitely saved my life."
House managers and staffers at A Sober Way play rec basketball, too.
One of them is Brian "Bird" McEnroe, a 48-year-old player and team manager for the Phillies who serves as the community director and family liaison at ASWH. A recovering alcoholic, McEnroe went through treatment at ASWH for 12 months. He said he's now been sober for more than 3-1/2 years.
"I was a very bad alcoholic towards the end," McEnroe added.
After joining the staff at ASWH two years ago, McEnroe implemented the sports program for recovering male addicts.
Prior to last Tuesday's game, while his teammates were crowded in the entryway, McEnroe sat several paces away on a wooden bench in the hallway.
Hunched over with his arms resting on his legs, McEnroe appeared content in his solitude. He's the eldest of the bunch. His graying hair and 5 o'clock shadow are a dead giveaway.
McEnroe's quick to point out that basketball boosts addicts' self-esteem.
"A lot of them are really beat up. It helps them with their health, anxiety. Anxiety's a really big thing for these young guys, especially coming off of drugs and things. It eats 'em up," he said. "The physical exercise, the physical-ness of it - boxing out and stuff like that - is a great stress reliever and anxiety reliever. Plus, it gives them some pride for them to win some games. It's the talk around the center."
Several of the Phillies played basketball in high school and they're rebuilding their connection to the game.
Kaczor, a former four-year varsity player who once had a couple scholarship offers to play NCAA Division II basketball, said he couldn't get back into the game until he kicked his addiction.
"I wanted to go play, but I just knew without handling my drug problem, I'd get kicked out of school and I'd waste a bunch of money," Kaczor said. "I knew it wasn't an option, really."
Guard Nick Sforza, 24, another athlete from Florida, is rebounding from an addition to painkillers. He played basketball and football in high school and was a three-year varsity starter in both.
Like Kaczor, he had college athletic scholarship offers, but he passed those up to attend school in Orlando, Fla.
Sforza suffered from back injuries in high school. During his sophomore year of college two years ago, he said he got a prescription for powerful and highly addictive painkillers, including Percocet and Oxycodone, to relieve his chronic pain.
But while he was using those drugs, he said he began selling some pills on the side.
"I ended up getting addicted to my pain medication and started taking more and more out for myself," Sforza said. "It got so bad to the point where I didn't know who I was."
Sforza stopped working out and going to the gym, and he "hated the person I was seeing in the mirror every morning."
"It got to the point where I just surrendered - I couldn't take it anymore," he said. "I didn't want to be this person anymore, I didn't want to live my life like this. My parents didn't raise me to be somebody like that."
He eventually approached his mother and told her he had an addiction that he could no longer control. Sforza got clean for three weeks before relapsing at home.
At that point, his mom found out about Sober Way. Sforza initially hesitated to leave for Arizona until he fell ill. A call to ASWH persuaded him to go.
He recently graduated from Sober Way after three months of treatment. Sforza's been out of the program for four weeks, and he's now doing well in a transitional house.
"I owe Sober Way everything, and I owe my family everything for being there for me," Sforza said.
Getting back to playing basketball has helped keep him on the straight and narrow.
"It's great to have friends and everybody on the same page. It (basketball) gives me something to look forward to, because I'm a competitive person," Sforza said.
When McEnroe was a house manager at A Sober Way, he noticed that recovering addicts like him simply had too much "down time" during the day.
Clients typically stay in the ASWH program from three months to a year. They need someone to talk to about their addiction, but they also need exercise.
McEnroe figured that venturing away from the recovery home would make them healthier and distract them from their woes.
McEnroe suggested to ASWH staffers that interested adult male clients should register to play intramural sports offered by Prescott's Parks and Recreation Department.
"I just saw some things that we could improve on, and I thought that team sports for these young guys was one of them," McEnroe said. "A lot of them were into sports and then got out of it for various reasons. It's big for 'em."
With the blessing of ASWH, the center has been fielding rec league teams for the past 2-1/2 years.
These days, McEnroe manages three Prescott Winter Basketball League teams, including the Phillies, the Men's "B" Jaywalkers and Men's "C" Big Blue. He demands that the guys on his teams behave in public.
"Bird's awesome," Kaczor said with a warm laugh and a smile. "He's a good guy to talk to. He knows a lot about addiction, because of his own struggles. He's always somebody that you can talk to. He's the reason why we can play basketball. He's definitely a big role in my sobriety."
With the blessing of Parks and Rec, ASWH players practice twice a week in the afternoon at Grace Sparkes and play their regular-season games on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights from early January through March. Others in the recovery community also attend practices.
McEnroe said ASWH male clients also compete in the city's adult softball leagues during the summer months and play soccer at the Prescott YMCA. He even has them out doing flag football and hiking.
"Anything to keep them moving, and keep them out of their head - because they get depressed and things of that nature when they're sitting around and doing nothing," McEnroe said.
In addition to the health benefits recovering addicts derive from sports, they also build camaraderie with the staffers they play alongside.
"They trust you more, you know what I mean?" McEnroe said. "You're more like one of the guys, more so than some counselor sitting behind a desk."
A Sober Way Home also has female clients, and McEnroe said he would like to start a sports program for them, too. He hopes to get them involved in a rec volleyball league later this year.
For now, McEnroe's content in his current role.
"I love hanging out with the kids, the young guys," he said. "I have a lot of fun with 'em. Some of these guys are torn up when they come in - I mean, bad. And then you look at them three months later and they're just normal 21-year-olds - healthy, physically fit, thinkin' right.