High school baseball: Brand new ballgame for Maple Mountain's Nick Van Wagoner after beating a drug addiction
Of course, it was Nick's "friends" who turned him on to trying drugs in the first place. He'd been raised and educated to know that drug use was dangerous and wrong, and for a while he resisted his temptations and the offers from his friends to join them.
But once he gave in, the downward spiral began. After a while, he was getting high quite often, and it all came to a head when his younger brother, Alex, smelled marijuana on Nick and called the police.
That's when it began impacting the Van Wagoners' lives. There was drug court, the ICT camp in Orem and his stint in the Provo Detention Center — each steps along the way that are designed to help straighten someone out, but don't always work — before a caring counselor wisely suggested the Odyssey House.
"You can't believe it's happening to your child," Mark Van Wagoner said. "You want to get a hold of those kids that introduced him to this stuff and just shake 'em.
"It's gut-wrenching to realize that your boy is in such a sorry state of mind and his body doesn't have control over what he's doing. Drugs affect your mind and your brain so much you're just going from one high to the next.
"When his therapist called us and said she'd found him a place at Odyssey House, we wanted to sit down and cry," his father said. "We knew he wouldn't have any (drug) access to anything any more. It was a great weight taken off our shoulders. It was such a relief to know that he's going to a facility that was going to help him and he could be healed. "We knew from what we'd heard about this place that they'd give him the things he needed to help him when he got out, things he needed to cope with life and avoid those things that got him in this mess in the first place."
At first, Nick couldn't wait to get out of Odyssey House, trying to fake his way through the program. What's more, the facility's doors are not locked, so patients can leave should they decide to go. But the consequences they'll suffer for walking away — a return to drugs and self-destruction, being sent back to a detention center or some other type of incarceration — aren't work that risk.
"I didn't like it there at first — I don't think anyone one does — and I thought about leaving a lot," Nick admitted. "I kept thinking 'I don't want to be here any more,' but for some reason I felt I needed to be there even though I wanted to leave. And I was seriously scared of where they would send me if I didn't stay. "It was probably one of the best decisions I ever made to stay there."
Nick spent almost 11 months in the Salt Lake City treatment program, gradually earning more privileges as far as having his family visit, leaving the facility to spend time with them, eventually getting the freedom to talk to friends and even getting to spend some time at the ballpark — where he saw one of his teammates in a joyful reunion, and his love for baseball quickly returned.
He was inspired and determined to graduate from the drug-treatment program, and he did it in considerably less time than is customary.
"He wanted out of there," Mark said. "He wanted to finish his senior year at Maple Mountain, he wanted to play baseball again, he wanted to be with his family and friends."
And there was also a young lady, BreAnn Hansen, who Nick had met and wanted to spend more time with, too.
"She was there for him when nobody else was," Mark said. "When he got back to high school at first, nobody wanted to associate with him and he really struggled the first month or two. He was feeling left out; he was expecting a great reception, but a lot of people shunned him."
"I guess my personality changed," Nick said. "I wondered why people wouldn't accept me, and it was hard at first. I felt like people were judging me, and I felt like there wasn't anything wrong with me.
"But I've been able to push that aside. I'm able to be myself, and all of us on the baseball team are good friends and they give me a lot of support."
Yes, the baseball diamond had always been Nick's sanctuary, and it came to his rescue again.