‘We are all on the same team’: Police play old-fashioned game of softball with recovering addicts

ST. GEORGE — A group of recovering addicts and law enforcement officers from multiple agencies came together for a softball game Saturday night, an event aimed at breaking down the stigmas often associated with active addiction – and provided the perfect environment for both sides to have fun on a ball field.

Spectators, friends and family attend softball game between clean and sober addicts who square off with police officers at the Canyon Softball Complex in St. George, Utah, Aug. 22, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

A team consisting of officers from local law enforcement agencies in Washington County took on a team of individuals involved in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. The two teams squared off on the softball field Saturday night at the Canyon Softball Complex on West 2000 North in St. George.

The event was organized as a way to demonstrate the positive relationship between two groups of people that are sometimes viewed as mortal enemies, and to break the common stereotypes that can come with active addiction.

The game was organized by Ty Empey, with Hope Rising Detox and Rehabilitation, and included members of the Recovery Softball League that played against a law enforcement team that included players from five participating agencies, including the Washington City Police Department, the St. George Police Department, Adult Probation & Parole, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the Santa Clara-Ivins Police Department.

Empey, who has been in recovery for four years from drugs and alcohol and started the softball league in 2018 as a way for people in recovery to get together and support one another outside of the traditional support groups.

The law enforcement team won Saturday’s game – a much-awaited win since the recovery team won last year.

The game is something St. George Police Sgt. Spencer Holmes said they look forward to all year, adding that support from the recovery community makes for an enjoyable event for both the officers and their families.

It also gives them an opportunity to hear stories from those who are now in recovery, as they recount their experiences with the officers they have interacted with in the past. While it may have appeared to be a negative interaction at the time, he said, seeing those same people in recovery and the way in which they’ve changed their lives makes it all worth it.

“It’s great to see people recover,” he said.

Empey expounded a little further when he said that when addicts are in their addiction, they often see law enforcement as “the bad guys,” since it is the officers who were locking them up and putting them in jail.

Washington City Police Lt. Kory Klotz at-bat during a softball game between a team of clean and sober addicts and a team of police officers at the Canyon Softball Complex in St. George, Utah, Aug. 22, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Then, when those individuals find recovery, they are able to move beyond the behaviors that led to many of those interactions and realize “that hey, we are all on the same team,” Empey said, adding that law enforcement often plays an integral role in keeping an addict alive long enough for them to get the help they need.

He went on to say there are stigmas that can sometimes go both ways, and it’s a way for those in recovery to show the officers that they can and have changed their lives around, since officers often see them “in their worst days,” while in active addiction — “so it goes both ways,” Empey said.

“Law enforcement plays a very important role in recovery,” Empey said, and the event is a way to show that “people do recover from addiction.”

Derik Drake, who played on the recovery team and also sang the National Anthem Saturday, said the game creates a bond between recovering addicts and the officers, that allows them to “come out here to have a good time,” he said.

Drake added that officers often play a huge role in helping addicts to get into recovery, and the bottom line is that “many of us don’t get recovery until we go to jail,” he said.

That role can be critical, when viewed from the perspective that “many of us wouldn’t be alive,” he added, “without law enforcement intervening and putting us where we need to be.”

Richard Bower has always believed “there were good people mixed up in addiction,” he said. As such, once he retired as a probation officer, he decided to get involved in efforts to help them by co-launching “Hooked on Life,” an organization that help those suffering from substance abuse.

Co-founder, Kelsey Sanders, said the organization provides resources to those in active addiction and recovery to get the help they need, whether it’s a detox or treatment center, health insurance to pay for treatment, assistance with a sober living facility and so on.

Player at bat during softball game between a team of clean and sober addicts and a team of police officers at the Canyon Softball Complex in St. George, Utah, Aug. 22, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Bower said that providing help is something that law enforcement is involved in routinely, adding that officers “have it in their heart to help them,” referring to those they interact with who are still in active addiction.

While law enforcement may have won Saturday’s game, the recovery team’s Jordan Hafen said they will be back next year to even the score.

“The cops brought the heat tonight,” he said, “Now, we’re gonna come back and get them next year.”

The event was more than the score though, Hafen said, a sentiment also shared by Cassie Clucas, another recovery team player. She said interacting with police on a different level was “a pretty amazing experience” and allowed those in recovery to show the officers “a different side of us.”

Tyrone Hafen added that it also provided the opportunity for the officers to show the recovery community “a different side of them. ”

At the close of the game, both teams came together in the middle of the field for the “Serenity Prayer.”

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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