A former professional lacrosse player and college football and lacrosse standout who struggled with alcohol and substance abuse. He is now a motivational speaker who talks to high school athletes about the dangers of substance abuse.

Rochester Police to Welcome Motivational Speaker During Red Ribbon Week

By Jordan Mayblum

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Rochester Police Department’s Juvenile Division is bringing the national motivational speaker, Ken Bartolo of There and Back, to Rochester to kick off Red Ribbon Week 2019, the national honor for DEA Agent Enrique Camarena that lost his life in a drug raid.

The Rochester Police Department is working with the Rochester School District to bring There and Back to our local athletes, their families and the community. There and Back, is the story of former professional athlete and collegiate football and lacrosse star Ken Bartolo. Ken shares the story of his 27 years of substance abuse, 3 years in state prison and the incredible story of his recovery. This presentation is an honest, authentic, and powerful look at the world of addiction and how it can destroy the lives of even the most promising of our youth. Ken’s message is meant to encourage today’s youth to believe that, with faith in themselves, anything is possible.

The presentations will be held Monday, October 21, 2019 at Spaulding High School at 9AM to the athletic student body; Rochester Middle School to the entire student body, and a parent session being held at the Rochester Opera House at 6:30PM. This is an opportunity for the community to see the connections between sports injuries, addiction and our youth and to help spread the national message of Red Ribbon Week about substance and alcohol use prevention.

For more details you can contact Nicole Rodler, Juvenile Division Coordinator, at the Rochester Police Department, at (603)330-7149 or

Star Athlete’s Grim Story: Drugs Took Him ‘There & Back’

“When we talk about addiction,” former all-star high school and college athlete Ken Bartolo observed, “we always know how the story ends.

“But no one tells you how it starts. That’s what I’m here to do today.”

Bartolo, founder of “There & Back,” dedicated to reducing drug and alcohol abuse among students from elementary school through college — with an emphasis on student athletes — addressed Brunswick Upper Schoolers on Thursday, September 26.

A former professional lacrosse player and college football and lacrosse standout, Bartolo had been an all-star athlete at Jamesville-DeWitt High School, in Syracuse, N.Y., and later at St. John Fisher College and then Nazareth College, both in Rochester, N.Y.

His long and devastating struggle with drugs began when he was just a sophomore in high school.

“I wanted to fit in with the cool kids,” he said, “so I took one hit of weed and I got caught.” As a result, he was suspended from school and kicked off the football team.

“When you make just one significantly bad decision,” he said, “the world you’re in ends and a new one begins.

He pointed out that “90 percent of addictions begin before you’re 19 years old.”

“I know,” he said. “It happened to me.”

Bartolo became hooked on Percoset and other painkillers during high school, he noted, as a result of prescriptions for sports-related injuries.

“Where does addiction start?” he asked. “Often, it can start right in a doctor’s office.”

Although Bartolo continued his drug use, he went on to star in college football and lacrosse, and later even played lacrosse professionally.

During a long and harrowing downward spiral that spanned 27 years, he eventually became addicted to heroin, crack cocaine, and a host of other prescription medications.

“Addiction destroys families,” he said flatly. “And it destroyed mine.”

At one point, having alienated relatives and friends, he became homeless. “There I was,” he recalled, “the All-American boy, living and sleeping behind a dumpster at a community center.”

Later, in Fulton County, Ga., he spent three years in state prison, wracked and ravaged by withdrawal, his large and once-powerful body wasted down to just 140 pounds. And when, due to delinquencies and drug-related infractions, prison officials refused to release him on schedule — consumed by shame and unable to tell his family the devastating news — Bartolo returned to his cell and attempted suicide.

His long climb back to sanity and sobriety began there, he said.

Gradually, Bartolo determined that his drug use was related to self-esteem issues and persistent feelings that “I’m not good enough.”

He found his own self-worth, he said, by committing himself to helping others.

“Don’t ever let anyone tell you what your value is,” he advised students. “Just be you! You’re perfect just the way you are.”

Today, he considers himself fortunate in his experience and “wouldn’t change a thing” about the twists and turns in the life he has led.

“I’m the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” he said.

“My story is my gift to you,” he concluded. “Now, it’s up to you to use it. It’s up to you to stand up for who you are.”

Former lacrosse pro gives McGraw kids advice

This story appeared in the February 14, 2018 edition of the Cortland Standard. To become a subscriber, email us, or call us at (607) 756-5665. Back issues available by request.

McGRAW — Ken Bartolo threw away 23 years of his life, ruined relationships, destroyed a career as a professional athlete and watched the world from the wrong side of prison bars.

He points to one bad decision — to take a hit from a joint when he was 15 — but that was followed by years of bad decisions and setbacks as an addict.

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Pro athlete tells kids lay off drugs

by Lohr McKinstry

MORIAH — Former professional lacrosse player Ken Bartolo recently had a powerful message for students at Moriah Central School about his long climb back from drug addiction.

As students listened intently, Bartolo told a chilling story of how his promising athletic calling was destroyed when he became addicted to marijuana and prescription drugs in high school in Syracuse.

“I started early,” he said. “It led to a steady decline in my athletic career.”

He was on his way to becoming a professional football player, he said, with scholarships offered to Syracuse University, University of Massachusetts and University of Maryland.

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Three National Keynote Speakers To Highlight 35th Anniversary Conference


The 35th anniversary conference of the New York State Athletic Administrators’ Association is fast approaching and the conference planning team under President, Murphee Hayes, CAA, are working hard to bring our membership another first class conference program in keeping to the theme of “Every Child Deserves A Champion.” This is a very special year for the NYSAAA. Our current President, Murphee Hayes, CAA is the first female president in the 35 years since our first conference. It is also the 35th anniversary of our first conference for high school athletic administrators, held in Liverpool, NY in 1983. With that in mind, our association has some very special things planned for this special year. We’ve gone to great expense to bring in some outstanding national keynote speakers who will bring home the conference theme to all our attendees. We will also provide some very special gifts and events to commemorate this special year.

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Mr. Ken Bartolo shares his story about addiction with

In the beginning of each school year at Rye High, there is a Drugs and Alcohol meeting held in the auditorium that all high school students attend. At this meeting, students listen to a different speaker each year who share his or her story about overcoming drug and alcohol addiction. This year, Ken Bartolo shared his story.

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Ex-lacrosse pro featured at OCS program

Boiceville — Onteora Central School will present, “There and Back,” an informative and motivating presentation on drug and alcohol abuse, at 7 p.m. on October 25. The presentation will take place in Harry Simon Auditorium at the High School/ Middle School.

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