MILWAUKEE/WAUKESHA (WITI) -- You may have heard an athlete or a fan say that he or she is "addicted" to sports, but there's a group of men using basketball to help them battle real addictions.
There's nothing like a bunch of guys working up a sweat playing basketball. There's nothing at stake really, other than just having a good time. But in reality, what one group is doing is helping to save lives. In some cases -- their own lives.
"Absolutely. It definitely saved my life," Byron Thompson, founder of "Rebound" said.
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"It's a starting over. So I had to start over and it's helping other guys to start over and just realize that people are out using substances and not living the way they were born to live," Thompson said.
Rebound is an outlet for men who are either voluntarily working through a substance abuse program or mandated by the legal system to do so. It uses the game of basketball as a fun vehicle to drive home what's really vital to the success of the outreach -- the meetings to discuss strategy for the battles against addiction are where the real points are made.
"We're not just gonna roll out the basketballs. We're going to get together and we're going to talk about issues. We're going to help each other out. If somebody needs a ride, if somebody needs a job, if somebody needs housing, we're going to help each other. We've had guys that don't even play basketball just come for the meeting part because that's the community. That's where we network. That's where we meet people who have done it before," Thompson said.
Ryan Perez played basketball and football at Greendale High School. His biggest struggles with addiction to pain medication and then heroin came after college at UW-Oshkosh.
"There came a point in my addiction where there was, it was kind of like life didn't mean anything anymore. I guess maybe I did think about (ending my life). I needed to find a new way. I didn't know how to until I asked for help and that was one of the biggest things. I never wanted to ask for help," Perez said.
Once Perez got help, he found that Rebound offered him a big assist. He has been sober for going on three years, and he wants to stay that way while helping other men do the same.
"I probably met my best friends in life at Rebound. To come out here and see guys that are staying sober and they're living a new lifestyle and it's more than staying sober. It's more about being a better, productive member of society. That's what we're trying to teach kids out here, and it's definitely affected me over the past few years," Perez said.
"Addiction doesn't discriminate. If you look out on the court -- there's old, young, black, white, gay, straight -- it doesn't really matter. Addiction touches everyone," Patrick Reilly said.
Reilly is a placement director and recovery coach for SALS Recovery Houses & Coaching in Waukesha. Reilly knows firsthand the helpless feeling of addiction.
"I was raised in a wonderful, wonderful home with two great parents and I wanted for nothing. That had nothing to do with the fact that I'm an alcoholic and I'm a drug addict. The problem isn't alcohol. The problem isn't cocaine. The problem is me," Reilly said.
Like Thompson, who runs the Rebound program on Milwaukee's East Side, Reilly, the Rebound West director in Waukesha believes the pre-game meetings are a must.
"A lot gets done in those 15 minutes. It's not uncommon to have a guy with 24 years of sobriety sitting with a guy who has 24 hours. If we can get those two talking, it was worth it that night. It means everything. You know, I have a purpose, and it means a lot. It's not my job to keep these guys sober. It's their job to keep me sober, and that's really where the power is," Reilly said.
And for those who are in the midst of addiction, Reilly has this message:
"I promise you, I promise you, it gets better. There is hope," Reilly said.
"It can be done. You can start over and you can enjoy life without substances. There's help in Milwaukee. Just pick up the phone," Thompson said.
"It really does work, and there is fun to have -- even at a place of desperate time. Really -- reach out for help. There are programs like this all over," Perez said.