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.

Ken Bartolo: Writing a new legacy

In high school Ken Bartolo was a stand out athlete Jamesville-Dewitt, but after suffering an injury and being prescribed pain killers he fell victim to an addiction that would control the next 27 years of his life.

Read Full Article

“There and Back” Presented to RSCS High School Students

story by Bruce Watson

On Dec. 4, high school students at RSCS gathered for an inspiring and informative presentation of how alcohol and drugs can lead to the horror of addiction and shatter dreams and family. Presenter Ken Bartolo attended high school at Jamesville-DeWitt High School where he excelled in both football and lacrosse. Colleges and universities were following his successes in high school sports offering scholarships and incentives as early as his junior year if he would sign to play for them after high school graduation. “In high school it seemed that the students that were the most popular and “cool” also smoked “weed” (marijuana) and did drugs,” Bartolo told the high school students at RSCS at an assembly. “I had everything going for me but I also didn’t think much of myself. Inside I believed I was a loser.” In a high school lacrosse game he was injured and his doctor treated him with painkillers. Thus began 27 years that included substance abuse, three years in state prison, addiction to prescription drugs, cocaine, heroin, and alcohol. “At 26 years old the two things I loved to do, play football and lacrosse, were ruined because I was drinking, popping pills, and doing cocaine,” Bartolo told the students. “My coaches recognized I had substance abuse problems and tried to help. Eventually I washed out of colleges and then other colleges recruited me and I would play for them. I continued to smoke crack, drink, and spend time in detox and rehab centers. I would be clean of drugs for ten months and then begin again. I believed I was a “nobody”; I didn’t matter and was a loser. Despite everyone telling me I was Mr. All-American Athlete, inside I didn’t like myself and turned to drugs. Even when I ended up in prison there was heroin inside prison waiting for me.

Read Full Article

Former athlete speaks about drug addiction, recovery

By Stephanie Sorrell-White

Herkimer, N.Y.

HERKIMER — Ken Bartolo asked a theater full of college students to take a few seconds to “focus on your dreams.”

He then spoke about how his addiction to drugs and alcohol ruined his own dreams.

Bartolo delivered his “There and Back” speech at Herkimer College on Tuesday. The speech covered his 27 years of substance abuse and his road to recovery.

Bartolo was a two-time All-County athlete in football and lacrosse at Jamesville-Dewitt High School, and was receiving scholarship offers from colleges and universities. By that time, however, drugs were starting to take over his life. He said he was suspended from school and kicked off the football team after he was caught doing marijuana.

“That was my first hit of marijuana and I had lost my first dream,” he said.

Bartolo said he became addicted to prescribed medicine, including Percocet and Xanax. Later, he would start abusing cocaine, though he said he thought he would only do it once.

“I had no idea it would take me 10 years to put that dollar bill down,” he said.

Even when he found himself playing professional lacrosse in Rochester, another dream of his, Bartolo said he turned to drugs instead.

“My dreams took a backseat to doing cocaine, popping pills and drinking,” he said.

Bartolo said he ended up panhandling at bus stations and on the streets in Syracuse. He said his addiction damaged his relationship with his family, including his son who he passed up a visit with because he wanted to feed his drug habit instead.

Bartolo said his addiction caught up to him and he ended up in state prison for three years. After prison, Bartolo said he had made the decision to get off drugs.

“I didn’t know what I was up against,” he said. “The drugs had complete control over my body.”

One day, when Bartolo was at the Rescue Mission, he decided to pray.

“Something told me to pray,” he said. “I said ‘Please, I need help.’”

Bartolo thought of a friend who was also recovering from drug abuse who helped him with his own recovery. He got in touch with the friend and told him he had lost his family from his drug abuse.

“He said, ‘Of course you did, son. That’s what addiction does to families,” he said.

Bartolo said he participated in various recovery programs — including a 12-step program — and he said it took about six months before he started to “feel good” again.

Through his rehabilitation, Bartolo said he learned to start helping people, doing things for others and to be a good example.

“My life is more wonderful now than it ever was as a teenager,” he said.

Bartolo’s There and Back organization is “dedicated to reducing drug and alcohol abuse among students from elementary school to college, with an emphasis on student athletes,” according to its website at

Bartolo said he’s been giving his motivational speeches for about a year.

“I believe in it,” he said, of doing the speeches. “I believe its necessary to hear about addiction.”

Herkimer College athletes attended the event, along with students in other classes and members of the public. The college’s departments of admissions, athletics, counseling and the Center for Student Leadership and Involvement sponsored the event.

At the end, time was made for questions from the audience, which included his current relationship with family members and when he knew he hit bottom. One woman spoke up and said, “It’s not a question, but I just want to say thank you. It really did hit home.”

High school students from the Central Valley, Herkimer, Herkimer BOCES, Little Falls, Mount Markham, Owen D. Young, Remsen, Sauquoit and Whitesboro school districts attended Bartolo’s speech Tuesday morning, where they had a chance to ask questions regarding his addiction and recovery.

Retrieved from:

Motivational Speaker to Present Substance Abuse Prevention Message

“There and Back” is the chilling story of two-time all-county and collegiate football and lacrosse star Ken Bartolo and his addiction with alcohol and marijuana. While starring in both sports at Jamesville-Dewitt High School, his addiction began costing him scholarship offers. Bartolo shares his story of 27 years of substance abuse, three years in state prison and his recovery. The presentation is an honest look at the violence and insanity in the world of addiction and how it can destroy the lives of the most promising youth.

Earlier in the day, Herkimer College will host a separate session with Bartolo for several local high schools.

Bartolo established There and Back, Inc. and is dedicated to reducing drug and alcohol abuse among students from elementary school to college with an emphasis on student athletes. For more information visit

The departments of Admissions, Athletics, Counseling and The Center for Student Leadership and Involvement are sponsoring the events.

Retrieved from:

BHS speaker recounts roller coaster of relapse, recovery

By Joanne Beck

BATAVIA – Ken Bartolo’s story titled “There and Back” could be expanded to add “there and back” a few more times.

That’s because the former two-time all-county and collegiate sports star traversed from relapse to recovery a number of times. He shared his story to student athletes and their families Tuesday at Batavia High School.

He started by asking how many of the kids planned to go on to college. Hands sprang up from about half the auditorium. He would have though the same when in school.

“I’m here to share my nightmare, a nightmare I had been in for 25 years.” he said. “You always hear about the end of addiction and never how it starts.”

He admitted that when his coaches brought in a motivational speaker on the topic of addiction, a smug Bartolo would sit in the back and laugh. He would “never be that guy,” he said. Little did he know that all addictions begin with the notion that “all I do is drink and smoke weed.”

By ninth grade, Bartolo was the best athlete in his class. His future was “as bright as it could be” and he was on his way to be a football and lacrosse leader. Then some kids – the cool kids – offered him pot. He had never smoked before, but caved in to the pressure and took one hit. He was caught by his varsity coach and was kicked off the team and out of school.

His talent earned him a chance to continue playing lacrosse, but he broke his back. Doctors put him on the prescription tranquilizer Percocet. Prescription drugs kill more people than alcohol and illegal drugs do, he said.

With two broken vertebrae he went on to play at Liverpool High School near Syracuse while living on Percocet. His father got him transferred to Jamesville-Dewitt, where he had “the best two years, and the worst two years.” While his athletic career flourished, he partied and drank heavily. He wondered how the kids who didn’t drink could just be themselves as he struggled with self-hate.

He won athletic awards and, due to excessive partying, earned a cumulative grade point average of 2.3. Scholarship opportunities vanished, so he went on to junior college with intentions to go onto another school. He was enticed to do cocaine.

“I did one line. I had no idea it would take me 10 years to put that dollar (used to snort) down,” he said. “That whole season was a nightmare. I failed out of junior college.”

His friends were collegiate all-stars as he was making a living by loading trucks at UPS. His coach got him into Nazareth College, where he experienced more athletic highs and substance abuse lows. After a weekend binge, his coach forced him to attend practice and run sprints. It was the third time that he puked when the coach said he needed help. Bartolo still denied that he had a problem.

As his status was edging near a first round draft pick, he left for Atlanta, Georgia. By then he was doing heavy duty drugs and resisted friends who tried to help. He ended up being arrested and going through withdrawal. He woke up to learn that his heart had stopped for 30 seconds.

Through an agreement to attend St. John Fisher College, he agreed to go through detox and make a clean start. He stopped drinking and drugging and played well for the season. After the last game he figured that he had fulfilled his promise, so he could go back to alcohol and drugs.

By the age of 25, the two things that he loved the most “meant nothing to me.” All he cared about was drinking, popping pills and doing cocaine. He eventually added steroids to the mix, but that ended after he was kicked out of a gym he operated with friends.

Enter crack cocaine, which lured him for seven straight days at a cost of $11,000.

“Mr. All-American boy was homeless and panhandling,” he said.

He’d collect enough money to buy drugs and booze. It all caught up to him – again – after he was driving while impaired. He blew a 1.8, which is double the legal blood alcohol limit, and was arrested and sentenced to three years. Since the only drug one can get in prison is heroin, that’s what he moved onto.

His story includes a suicide attempt and other close calls. He survived even though at times he wanted to die.

For once, when he was at the bottom of his life, he prayed and asked for help. They were the most important words he’d ever spoken, he said.

He then learned about spirituality, how to contribute to life and help others. He learned that only through looking outward did he gain a sense of his own worth.

“I had to learn to like myself with all my faults and imperfections,” he said. “If you take one thing away, if you ever get involved with drugs and alcohol, there’s a way out.”

Batavia Athletic Director Mike Bromley said he invited Bartolo because there has been a lot of talk about kids using vaporizers and other smoking tools.

“All those things are gateway drugs,” Bromley said. “If it’s going on, talk to your parents, talk to your administrators.”

Retrieved from: The Daily News, Dec. 2014,

Former Jamesville-DeWitt athlete Ken Bartolo shares story of addiction with high school athletes

By Emily Hull | Contributing writer |
June 17, 2014 at 2:00 PM, updated June 17, 2014 at 6:15 PM

Ken Bartolo stands before athletes at Liverpool High School. As he raises the microphone, he notices the faces in front of him. He remembers sitting there 30 years ago, when his athletic career was limitless. But Bartolo’s future didn’t turn out as he thought it would at 16 years old. Drugs and alcohol took over his life, he was arrested 15 times, charged with four DWIs, served three years in a high-security prison and pronounced dead twice.

Now that Bartolo is getting his life back on track, he shares his story with students in the area to show how addiction can damage someone’s life. With the help of his support staff, Bartolo started the organization There and Back, a program he holds for student-athletes who are at risk for addiction. Bartolo has toured Central New York, the state and will soon take his presentation national with a trip to Delray, Fla. He plans to expand his presentation to rehabilitation facilities, prisons and youth camps.

As a kid watching Syracuse games, Bartolo knew he wanted to be a Division I athlete. As he watched players give interviews, he noticed those were people who mattered. But Bartolo became a drug addict before graduating from Jamesville-Dewitt High School in 1985. As a ninth-grader, Bartolo rushed for 1,500 yards at tailback on the junior varsity team. That same year he landed a spot on the varsity lacrosse squad. During his sophomore year he was being heavily recruited by Division I universities. Bartolo was already 6 feet tall and weighed 180 pounds. “I was talking to Joe Paterno at Penn State. I’m actually glad that one didn’t work out,” Bartolo joked.

In his sophomore lacrosse season, Bartolo broke his back. He was prescribed pain killers and became addicted. He also abused alcohol and experimented with marijuana throughout high school. By his senior year, all of his scholarship offers had been retracted and his grades were suffering severely. “I was as straight-laced as they come,” he said. “If you put me and a hundred kids in a room, I was the last one that you’d pick to become addicted to drugs.” Bartolo took his lacrosse career to Division III Nazareth College in Rochester. There, his drug addiction worsened. He struggled with cocaine, Oxycontin, Xanax, tranquilizers, crack and heroin.

Once his eligibility for lacrosse was up in 1989, he began playing football at St. John Fisher College. After completing his degree in 1991, Bartolo had one-year stint playing pro-lacrosse for the Rochester Greywolves. However, his life continued on a downward spiral. “I remember my mom telling me that every time the phone rang in the middle of the night she wondered if it was the police calling to say I was dead,” Bartolo said. Ken’s brother, Matt Bartolo, said having an older brother with addiction problems was tough on the whole family. “For the last 25 years it’s been a roller coaster,” Matt said. “I have two children, and it has been hard having him coming in and out of our lives.” Matt said that even now that he is enjoying the good times with his brother; it is in the back of his mind that Ken could screw up again. “You never forget everything that’s happened,” he said.

Three years ago, Ken Bartolo said enough was enough.

After a three-year stint in prison because of a DWI charge, he resolved to stay clean. “I remember the day like it was yesterday,” Bartolo said. “I was homeless on the streets of Syracuse. I was actually contemplating suicide.” During his stay at the Rescue Mission, he went into a bathroom and prayed for an hour. Bartolo then called a friend who had recovered from addiction and alcoholism. His friend brought him to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and from there he began his outpatient treatment. He started seeing a therapist, took a 12-step program and participated in spiritual practices.
Matt gave Ken the idea to start There and Back and his sponsor told him it would help with his recovery. “He’s really running with it to make it successful,” Matt said. “To see him take it this far is really impressive.”

Bartolo said it is difficult to relive his traumatic addiction. But, he tells people all the time, if they want to see why he does it, they should stand behind him as he gives his presentation. From center stage, he sees how he is impacting young people’s lives. “The whole point of the presentation is to get one kid to come forward,” Bartolo said. The advice Bartolo saves for the end of his presentation is encouraging those struggling to “ask for help.”

“That’s the most important sentence I’ve ever uttered in my entire life,” Bartolo said. “I was the last person to ask for help, but when I did, there were hundreds of people waiting to help me. They believed in me until I could believe in me.”