“Hi. My name is Will. “I’m a drug addict.”
That is how the 19 year-old from Tonawanda, NY introduced himself to 51 teenagers participating in the Willie O’Ree Skills Weekend held in Buffalo in February. The event brought together 51 boys and girls from youth hockey organizations throughout North America.
Will’s presentation was part of the group’s visit to the “Kids Escaping Drugs, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the support of prevention programs for adolescents and their families suffering from alcohol and drug dependency.
Speaking in front of the group, which also included parents and coaches from around the United States and Canada, and following a short pause“Will” continued.
“I’m also a hockey player. I love the game and still play it today, despite all the problems I’ve had over the past few years.”
In an instant all eyes were riveted on “Will” and for the next 30 minutes all listeners were tuned in to what the speaker had to say.
Will, a native of Western New York explained his life story.
“Like many other kids, my father got me involved in hockey when I was between three and four years of age,” said Will. “He coached, watched and yelled at me.
“He was kind of like my best friend. He became my head coach when I was playing with the Squirt Majors with the Tonawanda Lightning.”
Then fate stepped in.
“My dad got cancer and about two years after that he died,” remarked Will. “On February 28, 2004 he passed away.
“Ironically, I had a hockey game the next day. I remember that because my whole team wore arm bands in honor of my father.
“I ended up playing in front of one of the biggest crowds ever for one of my games. I scored the winning goal, but it was disallowed. It became quite the disappointing day.”
From there it was on to St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute where he played hockey as a freshman in high school.
Then came his sophomore year.
“That’s when I became involved with drugs,” stated Will. “I started smoking marijuana all the time.
“My mom wouldn’t let me leave St. Joes. So I flunked out. Got kicked out.
“From there it was on to Kenmore West High School. I played more hockey.
“But it just wasn’t the same for me. I had lost my love for the sport.
“The drugs had taken over my life. Prior to drugs I had never missed a practice or a game.
“After than I started missing practices. I just didn’t care.
“I lost interest in high school hockey. But I continued playing midget hockey for a split season.
“Then I began getting in trouble with the law. I was getting misdemeanors for throwing beer cans at cars and trespassing.
“At Kenmore West I received a Class-E felony for running on cars in the parking lot.”
At that point Will’s mom had had enough. She didn’t know what to do.
“She turned to PINS (Persons In Need of Supervision),” continued Will. “PINS didn’t work because I never showed up for it.
“A runaway warrant was put out for my arrest. The authorities came to my house, arrested me in my livingroom in front of my sister.
“I was thrown on the ground and handcuffed.”
As Will was hauled out of the house he left behind a crying mom and sister.
“From there it was on to Juvie (short for the Juvenial Detention Center),” said Will. “I got out of there and was put on probation.
“I stayed clean from drugs for two weeks before going back to them.Then came September 9, 2009.
“Today that is known as my clean date. I went to court.
“The judge that day had enough of me. He sent me to Juvie again.
“Twenty days later I was on the grounds for Kids Escaping Drugs. I got out of there on July 10, 2010.
“I didn’t know what to do. That’s when hockey came back into my life again.
“A friend of mine got me a tryout with the Bud Bakewell Bruins. I made the team.
“I was having fun again. This time with the coaches as well as the players.
“then I went back to my old high school hockey team at Ken-West. I ended up making the team again.
“I started out on the fourth line. From there I went to the third, then to the second and finally to the first line.
“I ended up having a big game against rival Bishop Timon. I scored a goal in overtime that helped us into the playoffs for the first time in our coaches career.
“We ended up losing the next week in the semi-finals of the playoffs. I thought that was the end of my hockey career.”
At that point Will had to make one of the biggest decisions of his young life.
“I tried out with the Buffalo Jr. Stars,” recalled Will, now 19. “I found out that I needed $5000 to pay for expenses to stay on the team.
“My mom told me she would come up with the money. She was going to take it out of her retirement fund.
“Remember, she was now a single mom. That was a lot of money for her.
“So I walked away from hockey. I didn’t want her spending that kind of money on me for hockey.
“Instead I got a job with the Tonawanda (NY) Highway Department, a job that I still have today. And I’m still having a blast with hockey.
“I’m actually playing roller hockey. I know I have lived a different life than most 19 year-olds.”
The best news was yet to come. (continued pg. 32)
“Since I’ve been clean of drugs, my love of hockey has come back to me,” commented Will. “Now when I’m on that ice or rink, it kind of feels like nothing else in the world really matters.
“I’ve been clean now for over two years. My relationship is much better with my mom and the rest of my family. I now want to somehow pay my mom back for all she’s been through with me.
“I even have a 60 year-old friend named Jim. He’s taken over in a fathers role with me and is someone there to talk to when I need talking to.
“And the best part is, I ended up graduating from my high school at Kenmore West. I got a hockey award for the Most Improved Player.
“I also got the principals award given to a student who has had to overcome a lot of adversity. My name is on a plaque that hangs there in the school.
“I also go out and speak to groups and organizations with kids in them. I really enjoy that.
“I try to bring a little fun into a serious subject. And the main message I deliver to the kids is to be who you are.
“Don’t worry about being in with the ‘in’ crowd. Just be who you are.
“If you do that you should lead a pretty good life.”*