Tyler’s Light certainly shining brightly in the Ohio Valley

Wayne Campbell has gone through a personal tragedy you’d not wish on your worst enemy.

The 1980 Martins Ferry graduate lost to his oldest son, Tyler, almost a year ago to a drug overdose.

Tyler seemingly had it all going for him. He was a standout high school athlete at North High School in Pickerington, earned a football scholarship to Akron and won a starting spot on the defensive side of the ball as a freshman.

Along with his athletic exploits, he was a standout in the classroom and he was a caring, kind, compassionate kid who always “took care of everyone else and cared so immensely about others feelings.”

Unfortunately, Tyler became addicted to pain-killing medicine, which led to the abuse of other drugs, including heroin, which led to his death in July of 2011.

To most it’s simply unthinkable. However, as Campbell is working hard every day to point out, it can happen to anyone … anywhere.

While obviously still mourning his son’s death each and every day, Campbell didn’t waste time when it came to his desire to spread the word and want to help other students and parents hopefully avoid the same tragedy that Tyler faced.

“About two weeks after he passed, we began working on this organization,” Campbell said. “We were sitting in the funeral director’s office and we’re still numb as we had to pick out the casket and make arrangements.”

While sitting there, Campbell noticed the director had a wristband on, which have become widely popular for spreading different messages ever since Lance Armstrong’s “Livestrong” campaign.

“I asked the director about his (wristband) and he explained that people put slogans on them and pass them out to people,” Campbell said.

At that point, he knew what he had to do.

“I looked at my wife and said, ‘this is no longer a secret,'” Campbell admitted. “For a while, it was our own dirty, little secret. We weren’t going to go tell people that our son has an additction. No one will do that because it’s like an embarrassment that you didn’t raise your child correctly or something. We had kept it secret, but it was time to be honest.”

Thus, the non-profit organization, Tyler’s Light, was formed.

“When you’re honest about mistakes you’ve made, no one can throw a stone at you,” Campbell said. “My wife got a shocked look on our face, and I said, ‘this is no longer a secret.'”

The Campbell family ordered 300 wristbands to give to young adults who attended Tyler’s service.

“He was a pretty popular kid,” Campbell said. “We could have used 300 more wristbands because I think 1,500 people came up to the service.”

Tyler’s Light is growing by leaps and bounds almost daily as more and more people are jumping on board to help either financially, as a volunteer or just spreading the word by wearing a wristband that each student, who hears the presentation, receives.

“We’re an eight-month organization and it’s like a run-away train because obviously the need is there. We have 150 volunteers, nine committees and our website has more than 17,000 hits in eight months, which is mind boggling.”

Campbell brought Tyler’s story and message of Tyler’s Light to the Ohio Valley Friday. He held two sessions Friday morning at Shadyside High School, addressing the middle school students and then grades 9-12. He then headed for his alma mater in the afternoon.

“We just started the speaking tour about a month ago because we had to finish the video,” Campbell said. “This is probably our tenth speaking engagement because we wanted to wait for the video to get done. We’ve made it interactive, so the kids can stay tuned to what we’re telling them. We’ll go to whereever we’re asked and give the presentation.”

The message presented, which Campbell uses as a form of therapy, was simple and to the point. He encouraged the Shadyside and Martins Ferry student bodies to “speak up.”

“If you know something, that isn’t right, is going on with a relative, friend, classmate or anyone, please tell someone an authority who can help,” Campbell said. “We have to encourage people to speak up because those being affected won’t do it until it’s too late.”

The video includes Tyler’s story and also two other young adults’ testimonials who’ve been affected by drug abuse at a fairly young age.

“I have to take a deep breath sometimes because there’s something said on the video or it’s a group of kids and I can see my kids sitting in the audience,” Campbell said. “It’s a tough story to tell.”

Campbell, who came to Shadyside at the encouraging of his former college room and teammat John Triveri, who was recently hired as the next Shadyside High Athletic Director, has several more speaking engagements scheduled, including some at civic groups because he wants to get the message to adults as well as kids.

“Parents, sadly enough, need educated as much as the kids do because (parents) are going to be the ones in the battle with the kids when something happens,” Campbell said. “Kids are going to make a choice, regardless of what it is, and we need to prepare ourselves, and that’s really what our website and message are.”

Campbell, who played on Dave Bruney’s first team with the Purple Riders and is now an assistant football coach under John Magistro at Westerville Central, knows that it can be tough for parents, especially, to realize all that’s going on with their children.

“We’ve gotten into churches, civic organizations and we realize that our website is huge because people can come to us through the privacy of their own home,” Campbell said. “They’re getting the information even though they might not be coming to the speaking engagements.”

It was obvious, from sitting in the audience at Shadyside, that Campbell’s message had reached the students.

“I thought it went really well,” Campbell said. “It was scary to see how many hands went up from kids who knew someone with a drug addiction. This problem is prevelent everywhere.”

The Shadyside High School staff took up a collection and made a donation to Tyler’s Light.

Tyler’s Light is seeking corporate sponsors and is in the process of writing grants. The organization is also holding a 5K on May 6 in Pickerington as well as a golf scramble later in the summer.

For more information on Tyler’s Light, please visit the organization’s website at tylerslight.com

Staskey can be reached at sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com