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Sober Softball Tournament returning to Groton Saturday

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

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