The owner of a Portsmouth football team is finding his own way to bring hope to an area hit hard by Ohio's opioid epidemic.
A former high school running back, Jojo Parker hopes the semi-pro team Portsmouth Stealth can serve as a surrogate family for both players and coaches affected by drug addiction.
“It’s not so much about football. We’ve always been more than football,” says Parker, who coaches and co-owns . “We always wanted to give back to the community in some way.”
Parker personally understands the negative outcomes of falling into alcohol and drug addiction. His college career at a Division II school in West Virginia ended in 2005 after he began abusing alcohol and drugs.
“Coming home to a lot of people that had confidence in me that I could possibly achieve the goal of going to college and possibly making it to the pros, I guess it was a reality check,” Parker says. “I kind of let a lot of people down, along with letting my family down and myself down.”
Parker briefly played for the semi-pro football team The Kentucky Warriors. In 2013, he decided he couldn't play anymore but could still coach. So he started his own team.
“There’s players here who went through some type of drugs or some type of drug-related incidents in their life with their family or someone else on it,” Parker says. “I mean, there’s a lot of guys who didn’t know that I had went through a drug crisis for three or four years and had been in rehab until we sat down and actually started talking and telling stories.”
Parker says his players can rely on him for support through their difficulties. He invites them for cookouts or to hang out at his apartment.
“It’s like a family because we do argue, and you know, it’s more than football, even though we want to win games and we do practice and we do take it serious with football,” Parker. “It’s just more than that down there and I think some of the players feel that and that’s why they keep coming back to play for us.”
'Til The Wheels Fall Off, a documentary about the Portsmouth Stealth, premieres Wednesday, March 27 at 7 p.m. at Denison University. Parker says the title came from words that he expressed to the filmmakers about wanting to coach as long as possible.
“I make a joke with my players and I tell them I’ll be down here with a walker and gray hair and I’ll still have this team and I’ll still be coaching this team,” Parker says.