The smile is back. It’s shining through the hallways of Corona del Mar High School. He’s friendlier, often seen greeting faculty members, including the principal and vice principal who he says he’s befriended, as he walks around campus.
He might even crack a joke once in a while.
That was missing last year. He regained his happiness in an unexpected place – Little Rock, Arkansas.
Today, he has a lot to smile about. He’s a recovering addict and that’s no joke.
Brown, a senior outside hitter for Corona del Mar, was self destructing in front of family and friends. He was a prisoner to marijuana, a drug he began using at the age of 12. He would use, and use, and use, he estimates 10-12 times a day. Volleyball was now getting in the way of marijuana use for one of the top volleyball prospects in the state.
“He was so good at a young age,” said Corona del Mar head coach Steve Conti. “As time went on, just like in a lot of kids lives, other things become more important. It could be academics. It could be girls. It could be the social. It could be partying.”
In Brown’s case, it was weed.
One hit at a time, he was blowing his life away. Marijuana bookended his day, accompanied by more marijuana in between. During breaks at school he would smoke. After school he would smoke. Before practices and games he would smoke. In the middle of the night, he’d sneak out of the house to consume more marijuana. He couldn’t get enough.
“It (went from) becoming a habit to more of becoming a necessity after a while to go through your day and just relax and not be on edge,” Brown said. “After a while it just kind of took over.”
He was on the brink of losing his life.
“He was not eating, not sleeping. (He) had declined to a weight of 147 pounds,” said Parker’s father Jeff. “We weren’t sure he was going to be alive if we didn’t take drastic action.”
Parker lost 60 pounds. Still, on the volleyball court, he was one of the Sea Kings’ most feared players and helped lead them to a 2011 CIF Southern Section title.
Meanwhile, in his personal life, he was in a dark place. There wasn’t much to smile about. He questioned himself, in hopes that he would be able to live a normal life, without the drugs. He tried quitting anywhere from 20-30 times he guesses, generally lasting a day or two before he was right back to his weed smoking behavior.
In addition to his weight loss, his parents began to notice changes in his behavior. In parents, he has four of them, Jeff and stepmom Diana along with mom Carol Peck and step dad Scott Peck. They live next to each other.
Conti heard things throughout the neighborhood and tried to intervene. He’d have Parker come sit in his classroom during break and lunch just to make sure he wasn’t using. Parker’s parents tried sleeping in the same room with him in hopes that he wouldn’t sneak out at night. However, once their eyes were shut, Parker was off into the night. His parents hoped that things would get better. They hoped he could make it through the school year and through volleyball season, oblivious to the problem being much bigger than they anticipated.
Last July while in Minnesota for the Junior Olympics, Parker got caught. Before boarding the plane with his club team, he got high. Although this time, he didn’t smoke it. It was marijuana in an edible form. Parker didn’t make it past day three of the tournament. His play was lacking and there were rumors that circulated to his club coach that he’d been using.
Parker was kicked off of the team.
His parents had been working on a plan for months.
“What turned out to be a hard decision in the spring, April and May,” Jeff said, “turned into an easy decision in June and July because Parker just further deteriorated and was not in control of himself.”
It was now time to put the plan in action immediately upon leaving Minnesota.
“He thought we had a layover in Little Rock,” Jeff said.
Little Rock, Arkansas is the site of the Capstone Treatment Center, a rehabilitation center for young men ages 14-24 who struggle with substance abuse amongst other things.
At the airport, Parker was under the impression the family had to get their bags from the baggage claim to switch planes. He was then told they had to switch terminals. Once they stepped outside, there was a car waiting for them with two guys that looked like “bodyguards.”
Immediately Parker knew what was going on. He was being sent away.
“He absolutely had a panic attack, — screaming, tantrum, as an addict would do. ‘One more chance, I promise, I will never (do it again),’” Jeff recalls. “He had done that multiple times (before).”
Parker wanted no parts of rehab. Away from everything he was accustomed to in life, he was “defiant” for the first week. It took two weeks for him to buy into the program.
Capstone provided Parker with a structured, controlled environment. There was a time to get up, a time to eat, a time to shower.
“It was almost military,” Jeff said.
They measured how much he ate. Showers were timed. He was not allowed any internet usage, and just ten minutes to use the phone each week. Phone calls could only be made to family. Jeff sent his son a letter for each day that he was there, which ended up being 100 days.
Parker’s life was beginning to change.
“I realized that I had a huge problem and I needed to stop it or I was going to end up either in jail, dead, or somewhere not good,” Parker said.
His parents never imagined he was in so deep with marijuana. They caught him using but assumed he was experimenting and was done. What parent wants to assume their child is addicted to weed?
“He was such a good athlete, we thought it was sporadic use, exception use. (We) never had any idea he was using heavy until four or five months before he went to Capstone,” Jeff said. “To watch your own child in front of you who’s old enough now to really get in trouble and hard to physically control because he’s a big athlete — I can’t spank him anymore, I can’t tackle him and hold him down and supervise him 24 hours a day. To watch him self destruct in front of your own eyes is in some ways worse than death.
“I do feel like a failure.”
It wasn’t until last year that he began using more and the warning signs became clearer in the spring. Brown sold jerseys and memorabilia for money to feed his habit.
But on the court, he was still one of the top players in Orange County. He didn’t reach the level he had as a sophomore when he was named First Team All-County but was still good enough to be on the second team.
Despite his struggles with his conditioning, he still came up huge in the playoffs for the Sea Kings despite being down to 147 pounds.
“It was his competitive will that got him to play the way he did,” said Conti.
In the CIF Division II final, as former teammate Spencer Haly stole the show, Brown chipped in with 11 kills in a Corona del Mar win and was literally high right through it.
“I was pretty much high at every single practice or game,” Parker said.
On Saturday, the Sea Kings will try to repeat. Unlike last year, but similar to all of his matches this season, Brown will return to Cypress College sober, he hopes. As part of his recovery, he can’t get overconfident and must stick to the script of taking it one day at a time.
He’s been clean and sober now for 10 months.
He feels better than he ever has. Where volleyball used to get in the way of his weed smoking, he’s regained the passion that was lost for the sport. He keeps busy by going to the gym every day. He surfs and has picked up rock climbing.
In the classroom he’s now getting good grades, something that in the past, “never happened,” bringing home a 3.8 earlier this year.
He has a rich support group around him that includes his parents — all four of them, his girlfriend, Conti, and his volleyball teammates to name a few.
His battle with addiction is a five-set match that’s going to last the rest of his life.
Despite his addiction battle, Ohio State, Pepperdine, UC Irvine, and USC have all stuck by him with scholarship offers to continue his career at the next level. He’ll make a decision on which school he’ll attend in the next couple of weeks, he says.
Parker Brown has a reason to smile. He realizes a good time does not have to include marijuana. His trip to Little Rock made him realize people do care about him and not just those close to him but also those he didn’t expect –many of which he left behind in bittersweet fashion at Capstone.
There’s a reason for Parker to be happy. He’s in the first set of his new life. So far, he’s winning.