NBA star Chris Herren brings his message to LRHSD

More than 1,000 people — parents, guardians and other community members of the Lenape Regional High School District — received a jolt of reality and were brought to their feet in a standing ovation by former NBA star Chris Herren at the district’s Performing Arts Center. Herren shared the compelling and unvarnished story of his struggles with substance abuse and his journey to sobriety.

Integral to the District’s DEFY the Issue campaign, Herren’s presentation got parents and community members tweeting. “Thanks for making last night happen. Inspiration & hope for some, a reality check for others, & a blessing for all,” said one person. While Dave Distel, assistant basketball coach and parent of a Cherokee High School student, tweeted: “Was just moved by listening to Chris Herren…his presentation should be mandatory viewing for all teenagers!” And from Herren himself, “Blessed to be a part of the Lenape School District.”

DEFY the Issue is a community-based initiative started three years ago. It was designed by students for students and supported by the communities served by the District. “The word DEFY taps into the natural trait of any teenager who is learning how to question the status quo…sometimes through defiance,” explained Dr. Carol Birnbohm, District Superintendent, as she welcomed everyone to the event. “We figured why not teach them to use that teenager trait to their advantage? Help them DEFY using drugs or alcohol.”

In welcoming parents, guardians and members of the community, Birnbohm noted that it is “uncomfortable” to discuss the rate of incidents of substance abuse as it relates to students, “it is a reality and one that as a parent, as a community, we must be aware.”

After a five-minute video presentation on his background, Herren, a basketball legend from Fall River, Mass., took the stage and spoke for more than an hour on how he realized his dream to play for the NBA, only to lose it all to addiction. Herren has been drug- and alcohol-free since August 1, 2008.

As Herren finished speaking, the audience erupted into applause, and then plied the former basketball star with questions from the floor for another 30 minutes, before giving Herren a standing ovation as the evening ended. During the question and answer period, Herren pointed out that an addict never starts by using heroine, “At the beginning of any addict’s journey, there is usually the ‘red solo cup’ of beer in someone’s basement when the parents are away, or worse yet, when the parents are home, and they allow it.”

Herren impressed Shamong resident Beth Denauris, who attended Monday’s event with her 13-year-old daughter. “I think that here’s a guy who’s had so much going for him in his life, but he went from drinking and smoking to becoming a heroine addict in no time,” says Denauris. “He is extraordinarily honest.”

Denauris asked Herren a timely question about Mylie Cyrus’ recent appearance at the EMAs (Europe Music Awards) when she pulled a joint out of her bag and started smoking it on stage.

Herren shared his disappointment, “As a performer she needs to do a better job than what she’s doing in setting an example for young women.”

Herren’s extensive visit to the district, which includes two student presentations at each high school as well as the November 18 community program, was made possible through an outpouring of donations, as well as a $29,000 donation from the Lenape Regional High School District Foundation. A complete list of sponsors can be found on the Defy the Issue website.

For more information about DEFY the Issue and Chris Herren, visit. www.DefyTheIssue.org.