Sober Sports League Offers Healthy Outlet To Recovery Community While Fighting Stigma

By McCarton Ackerman 12/22/16

The new league will launch a basketball season this winter, followed by flag football and baseball in the spring.

Kitchen 519 team
Kitchen 519 - One of the teams in the Sobr Sports League Photo via Sobr Sports League

A new sports league out of New Jersey is providing a healthy outlet to those in recovery while also clearing up some misconceptions about addiction.

SOBR Sports League, based in Camden County, was co-founded by 20-somethings Jimmy MacDonald, Stephen Smarrito and Justin Wroblewski. MacDonald, who is now three-and-a-half years sober from a heroin addiction, came up with the idea for the league after wanting to regain his passion for sports that he lost during his drug use. But since some local recreational leagues involve drinking, he wanted to create a sports outlet that wouldn’t be a potential trigger for those in recovery.

The league launched its basketball season this winter, holding its first game last Sunday (Dec. 18). Flag football and softball are planned for the spring. Additional sports, charity tournaments and even an indoor gym are all part of the league's future plans. MacDonald noted that while many people in the league are currently in recovery, the goal is to have the greater community involved.

“As of now, our basketball league is over 90% people in recovery. Because it’s the first league we launched, we targeted those in recovery first to fill the six teams, and had that within a week. We’ll easily have 8 to 10 teams next season,” MacDonald told The Fix. “We are hoping to be able to accommodate more people who aren't in recovery in the near future because we believe it is important to unite the community and help break the stigma.”

The league has been receiving support from the Camden County Addiction Awareness Task Force and members of the Gloucester Township Police Department.

But even before the SOBR Sports League held its first game, it received pushback from some people in the community.

“Due to the stigma associated with addiction, many local refs did not want to help with this league. They stated that ‘the games could get out of hand,’ which couldn't be further from the truth,” said MacDonald. “These kids are grateful just to have a second chance to do something they love, something that active addiction took away from many of us.”

Sports have played a major role in MacDonald’s own recovery. He had potential for a college baseball career before his addiction took over, but got back on the field for the first time since high school when the sober living residence he stayed in, Foundation House, set him up in local leagues. Now that he’s found a sober activity he thrives in, he wants to help others do the same.

“Once I lost that structure sports provided me, I spiraled out of control faster than ever. I thought I would never step on a field again. When Foundation House gave that back to me, I realized that with sobriety, there's nothing I can't do,” he said. “Sports gave me hope and showed me how to have fun again. That's what we hope to do for others.”

You can learn more about the Sobr Sports League by visiting their website

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.