Sober soft­ball tour­na­ment of­fers hope amidst griev­ing

Event was brain­child of Joey Gin­gerella, who was killed last year

The Day - - REGION - By KAREN FLORIN Day Staff Writer

Gro­ton — Ash­ley Shaw Gior­dano stepped right up when Com­mu­nity Speaks Out asked her to or­ga­nize this Satur­day’s sec­ond an­nual Christo­pher Johns Memo­rial Sober Soft­ball tour­na­ment.

Her friend, Joey Gin­gerella, whom she met while both were in re­cov­ery from opi­oid ad­dic­tion, started the tour­na­ment last year as a way to re­move the stigma of ad­dic­tion and honor those who have died from over­doses, in­clud­ing Christo­pher Johns, the son of Com­mu­nity Speaks Out found­ing mem­ber Lisa Cote Johns. Gin­gerella was shot to death in De­cem­ber 2016, leav­ing a void in the lives of his fam­ily and friends.

In the months that fol­lowed, Gior­dano lost more friends and ac­quain­tances than some­one who is only 23 should have to lose from fa­tal over­doses, the most re­cent be­ing Kyleigh J. Man­fredi, 20, on Sept. 13.

Through it all, Gior­dano stayed clean, cel­e­brat­ing 1 1/2 years on Wed­nes­day. She said it helped to work with Com­mu­nity Speaks Out, a Gro­ton-based non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion founded by Gin­gerella’s par­ents and oth­ers. Last year, at Joey Gin­gerella’s re­quest, she put to­gether a team of peo­ple in re­cov­ery for the sober soft­ball tour­na­ment. She saw what hope it gave to those who are strug­gling and how it com­forted those who had lost loved ones.

“To me, it would be a dis­grace to not carry on such a good event,” Gior­dano said of the soft­ball tour­na­ment. “I think it’s im­por­tant for the com­mu­nity to unite in such a dark time.”

All pro­ceeds will go to Com­mu­nity Speaks Out, which will use the funds to help those in re­cov­ery restart their lives.

Gior­dano has cre­ated ten teams, each with about 13 play­ers, for

“We just have to em­brace what we have and honor those who are suf­fer­ing, those who have to wake up ev­ery day and strug­gle. We have to give them chances and hope and let them know there are peo­ple who will sup­port them.” LISA COTE JOHNS, FOUND­ING MEM­BER OF COM­MU­NITY SPEAKS OUT

this year's tour­na­ment, which will run from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Wash­ing­ton Park in Gro­ton. Like last year, the teams are named for area res­i­dents who died from over­doses.

“It's go­ing to con­tinue to be that way ev­ery year,” Gior­dano said. “Un­for­tu­nately, it's easy to find new peo­ple to honor. It's not get­ting bet­ter.”

The state Of­fice of the Chief Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner has es­ti­mated that more than 1,000 peo­ple would die from over­doses in 2017. As of June, there had al­ready been 539 deaths.

While hon­or­ing those who died and help­ing to re­move the stigma of ad­dic­tion, Gior­dano and Com­mu­nity Speaks Out want to em­pha­size that there is hope. Two of this year's teams are made up of peo­ple in re­cov­ery.

Soft­ball games will con­tinue all day Satur­day, and there will be side games, in­clud­ing corn­hole and can jam. Gin­gerella's fa­ther, State Rep. Joe de La Cruz, D-Gro­ton, will em­cee the event. First re­spon­ders who are on the front line of the opi­oid epi­demic will be hon­ored dur­ing a mid-day cer­e­mony. There will be a food truck, raf­fle and a can­dle­light vigil to cap the day.

Lisa Cote Johns, who this month is mark­ing the third an­niver­sary of her son Christo­pher's death on Oct. 2, 2014, said Gior­dano is do­ing an amaz­ing job or­ga­niz­ing the tour­na­ment and that she's hon­ored the event will con­tinue in mem­ory of her son, Gin­gerella and oth­ers. Johns said she made an in­stant con­nec­tion with Gin­gerella, who had just fin­ished a treat­ment pro­gram for his ad­dic­tion to pain pills when she met him, and who re­mained clean un­til he died so trag­i­cally. Wit­nesses said Gin­gerella was shot as he at­tempted to as­sist a wo­man in­volved in a do­mes­tic dis­pute in the park­ing lot of Ryan's Pub. His al­leged killer is in­car­cer­ated while await­ing trial.

“When I met him, he gave me a big hug and said, ‘Don't worry. I'm go­ing to be your boy. I got you, Momma,'' she re­mem­bered. “He wanted to do some­thing spe­cial for me in honor of my son, and this is what he cre­ated.”

Even as she con­tin­ues what is likely to be a life­time of griev­ing, Johns said it's im­por­tant to let peo­ple know there is a com­mu­nity fight­ing for them to re­cover from ad­dic­tion.

“We just have to em­brace what we have and honor those who are suf­fer­ing, those who have to wake up ev­ery day and strug­gle,” Johns said. “We have to give them chances and hope and let them know there are peo­ple who will sup­port them.”

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