By Walter Villa
Parker Brown’s GPA had sunk to 0.9, his weight had plummeted from 205 pounds to 147 pounds and he was coughing up “black tar and other gross stuff.”
Brown’s stamina was down, he was missing practices and he was neglecting his volleyball friends.
It was Brown’s junior year at Corona del Mar (Newport Beach, Calif.), and the marijuana addiction that started when he was 12 years old had grown out of control.
He was getting high a dozen times a day, and he had gotten himself kicked off his Balboa Bay club team after he showed up high for the 2011 Junior Olympics tournament in Minnesota.
“I was smoking all day, every day,” said Brown, a 6-foot-3 outside hitter who is now a senior at Corona del Mar. “My whole world revolved around pot, and I didn’t realize how much damage it was causing.
“Pot is really a scary drug because it’s one of the worst things for your brain.”
Teammate Joe Ctvrtlik, a Stanford recruit, said he knew for a while that Brown was doing “some stuff on the side.” He said he’d see Brown at school on Friday and not hear from him again until Monday.
“It was scary to see,” Ctvrtlik said. “He was smoking atrocious amounts. His attitude was down and gloomy, and he wouldn’t listen to anyone.”
The low point
The incident at the Junior Olympics turned out to be the catalyst for change in Brown’s life.
His parents -- Carol Peck and stepfather Scott Peck as well as father Jeff Brown and stepmother Diana Brown -- had heard enough. They sent their son directly from Minnesota to Capstone Treatment Center in Arkansas.
Brown hadn’t hit rock bottom just yet, though. For two weeks, all he thought about was getting out so he could use again. He cried a lot and didn’t participate in the program.
Finally, he had an epiphany.
“I figured out how [crappy] my life was going,” said Brown, 18, who stayed at the rehab center for 100 days. “I knew I could have been going to a Division I college. But because I had been using, I didn’t have any offers.”
Corona del Mar coach Steve Conti said Brown was his strongest player in the weight room as a sophomore, but that was not the case as a junior.
“His whole body of work as a sophomore was better than it was as a junior,” Conti said. “I never personally caught him [using], but people in the community had started to talk about what was going on with Parker.
“That was not to ‘narc’ on Parker -- there was genuine concern. You could see that he was less engaging. You couldn’t really have a conversation with him. Parker had a comatose look on his face.”
Conti has a favorite saying. “Show me your friends,” he said, “and I will show you your future.”
Turning his life around
Brown’s future, which looked bleak less than a year ago, is now looking better and better.
His best friend, crew athlete Keaton Kay, has moved in with Parker and the Peck family, serving as a positive role model.
In addition, Brown has regained the trust of his biological parents, who are divorced and live next door to each other.
“Even when he was getting high, Parker still had a heart of gold,” Carol Peck said. “But now … it’s amazing what he has done in his life the past year. He’s getting A’s and B-pluses. He does his own laundry, cleans his room. He’s just a different person.”
Brown not only quit marijuana, he also dropped his cigarette problem, which had been extensive, and said he no longer feels the temptation to use any substance.
Now, when he does go to parties, Brown serves as the designated driver because everyone in the community knows he no longer uses.
His most recent report card -- a 3.8 GPA -- was stunning to Brown, who for a long time thought he was incapable of doing well in school.
The problem, he knows now, was the pot. Three years of being a “horrible student,” as he describes it, has left his cumulative GPA at 2.7, which he feels is below par.
Because of his issues, only four colleges have shown an interest in offering Brown a volleyball scholarship: Ohio State, Pepperdine, Southern Cal and California Irvine.
“I can’t explain how grateful I am to those schools for giving me a second chance,” Brown said.
Sticking to it
Clean and sober for nine months, Brown is starting to make a positive impact in the community. Seeing how he has turned his life around, some kids have come to him for advice.
Brown said his teammates are clean but a lot of other athletes he knows are “drinking, smoking pot and doing other things.”
He won’t push his sobriety on others, but Brown said he is there for support if needed.
“I’m stoked when kids ask me for help,” he said.
Brown is now back to his normal weight of 205 pounds, his stamina has returned and his relationships with family and friends have been repaired.
Corona del Mar, which is No. 25 in the POWERADE FAB 50 national rankings, is benefiting from Brown’s return to prominence. Conti said Brown is an ultra-competitive player who, if anything, has to tone it down at times in the weight room so he doesn’t tire himself out.
On the court, Brown is a versatile athlete who can play setter, libero and outside hitter in college.
“He may be a bit of a tweener size-wise,” Conti said. “He is a little-to-a-lot smaller than some of the college outside hitters who go 6-6 to 6-8, but he doesn’t look across the net and let that affect him. In fact, when sees someone bigger, he gets that look in his eyes because he loves the challenge.
“We’ve also used him some at libero, and he has the mindset you want because he is not afraid to dig the heavy balls that elite guys hit. He just needs to improve his passing for the next level.”
Ctvrtlik said Brown is one of the most determined players on the team.
“He is playing way better now,” he said. “Before, his mind was a little slow. Now, he has that spark in his eyes. He’s proud of himself, and we’re proud of him. I think he can be a really good college player.”
Volleyball aside, Conti said he is excited about Brown’s future.
“I’m most proud that he has not fallen back and has remained on the right path,” Conti said. “Even when he was going through his problem, he was never disrespectful. He was just hurting himself.
“He’s a great kid.”