High school baseball: Brand new ballgame for Maple Mountain's Nick Van Wagoner after beating a drug addiction

Published: Monday, April 16 2012 8:00 p.m. MDT

Nick Van Wagoner, Maple Mountain

courtesy Van Wagoner family

SPANISH FORK — You could certainly call Nick Van Wagoner the Comeback Kid.

But his is no ordinary comeback. And this is no ordinary kid.

Indeed, after all the tough, terrible times he's put himself through over the last couple of years — and he blames nobody but himself — he's finally found his way back to playing the game he loves.

Van Wagoner is a Maple Mountain High senior who's a star pitcher on its first-place baseball team. He currently carries a grade-point average of about 3.4 and is eager to serve a mission for the LDS Church.

With all that going for him, you'd never know that, at this time last year, he was living at a substance abuse treatment center in Salt Lake City, trying to put his life back together. Or that two years ago, this tormented teenage boy was a lost soul spinning out of control due to a drug problem that threatened to destroy him.

It's been a long, difficult journey back from those days and nights spent at Odyssey House, the treatment facility that Nick's dad, Mark Van Wagoner, credits for finally getting his son back on the right path and saving his life. There was that time he spent at the Provo Detention Center, a lockdown facility with tall fences topped by barbed wire, and all those days and nights spent in a drug-induced stupor when the only thing that seemed to matter to him was the next high. He wound up wasting more than two years of his life, and now Nick Van Wagoner is doing his best to make up for all that lost time.

"One of my best friends got me introduced to it," said Nick, now 18, of his first experience with smoking marijuana when he was around 15 years old. "At first I was a little iffy about it. I didn't think it was OK and I was worried about it because of what it would do to you. I'd always been told when I was younger that drugs were bad and to stay away from them.

"But my friend kept doing it, and I kept telling him to stop. Then one day I wondered what it was like. And that curiosity is what got me. And once I started, I kept doing it for a long time. I liked how it felt, and I kept telling myself that it was harmless. "But that eventually led to harder, more dangerous drugs. I tried pretty much everything except meth over a two- to three-year period," Nick admitted. "You keep telling yourself this isn't going to hurt me. But pretty soon it catches up with you and you're done for. You become curious about other drugs and your friends are doing it, so you say 'I want to try it, too.' "The worst part is all the bad habits I created — lying to people, wasting so much of my time and not getting anywhere in life, feeling unhappy and depressed. So I kept going back to it and it only made it worse."

"As a parent, when something like this happens to your child, you're in denial," Nick's father, Mark Van Wagoner, said. "You can't believe it's happening to you and you try to deny it.

"You always think it's gonna be somebody else's kid, not yours. But when it comes right down to it, you find out that your kids are just as vulnerable as any other kid. You've been in denial all this time, and by the time you accept it, it's almost too late."

Nick had never been in trouble before. The third child born to Mark and Lynnette Van Wagoner, he loved to play baseball and was a gifted left-handed pitcher who, like many young boys, dreamed of playing in the big leagues someday.

Then everything started to change — and soon those high hopes and glorious dreams seemed shattered.

"We knew he'd had some challenges in school," his dad said. "He'd been caught doing some things a couple of times, nothing too big, and we thought we had handle on it.

"But then he started pulling away from the family, missing more school, and his grades started dropping. Anything we tried to get him to do, he didn't want to do it. His friends were more important to him that anything else."

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