Dodgeballers take aim at substance abuse in Portsmouth

Tournament culminating event of Project Purple Week ·

PORTSMOUTH — J. Mark Ryan didn’t heed his own doctorly advice.

Last year, the Town Council member felt pretty confident while competing in the Project Purple Dodgeball Tournament at Portsmouth High School.

“(Town Council President) Keith Hamilton talked me into playing and I actually thought I would win, because I was delusional,” said Dr. Ryan.

He ended up tearing something in his throwing arm, which left a large bruise, he said. For this year’s tournament, he vowed to take it easy.

“I’ve got a simple strategy: Don’t throw the ball,” Dr. Ryan said after his team, Purple Reign, lost its opening game in the PHS field house Thursday night.

However, he proved to be a full participant in successive games, even showing off a strong sidearm technique on his throws. 

The School Committee and administrators, meanwhile, teamed up on The Hard Targets, which enjoyed some early success in the tournament. They defeated Daughter’s of Rose, which included members of the PHS girls’ cross-country team — the very group that captured the state championship last fall, school officials were quick to point out.

“We just beat the girls’ state champions,” a pumped-up Superintendent of Schools Ana Riley said.

“I think we should just stick to running, but it was a lot of fun,” said Olive Allen of Daughter’s of Rose.

While Purple Reign and The Hard Targets fought gamely throughout the night, however, youth ultimately won out. The student team Tiv Tigers (Max Doodley, Michael Alves, Tim Jackson, Jack Cavanugh and Nicholas Peterson) took home first-place trophies, but their victory didn’t come without a fight from one of the two Portsmouth Police squads competing. 

The Tigers split a two-game set in the finals with The Night Watch (Bruce Celico, Richard Doyle, Mike Morse, Michael Quinn and Amanda Weaver), but the students were declared the champs because they had previously gone undefeated.  

All trash-talking and fun aside, there was a serious message behind the dodgeball tournament. It was the culminating event of Project Purple Week, part of a school- and community-wide effort to encourage youngsters to stay away from drugs and alcohol. Project Purple was initiated by The Herren Project, founded by Portsmouth resident and former NBA player Chris Herren in 2011.

“It’s all about making good decisions about the life you want to live,” said Ms. Allen, a member of Patriots Committed, a PHS student group that pledges a lifestyle free of substance abuse. (Proceeds raised from donations at the event went to Patriots Committed.)

“I feel like the message gets spread a lot more. It really hits home for more people to get involved. We do stuff at school, we do stuff at the middle school and we do stuff throughout the town,” she said.

‘Bigger every year’

Ray Davis, coordinator of the Portsmouth Prevention Coalition, was heartened by the community response to Project Purple this year.

“It’s gotten bigger every year,” he said. “There’s more people involved, businesses are more involved, and also the kids — from elementary up to the high school. That’s a good thing to see. 

“There are more opportunities for us to explain what Project Purple is and it’s really about those kids — and we’re talking about most kids — who make good choices, and it’s done in a fun way as well. It brings awareness to the issue and gives the kids credit for those good decisions. That’s the best thing about it.”

He also gave a shout-out to Mr. Herren for getting everything started a few years ago.

“It increases my respect for Chris Herren and what he’s done and what he continues to do,” Mr. Davis said.

Portsmouth Prevention Coalition, Project Purple, Chris Herren, The Herren Project, Portsmouth High School