KateShermanIn a local event recorded for the ABC program 20/20, RFH senior Kate Sherman recently participated in an open forum with former Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice, who was fired from the program earlier this year for bullying behavior. (click to enlarge)

Press release from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School

The Central Jersey Chapter of the Gay Straight and Lesbian Education Network (GLSEN) recently presented a unique opportunity to local students. GLSEN planned to host an open conversation between New Jersey students and former Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice on November 9, with the forum taking place that morning at Hoops, a recreational basketball facility located in Neptune. The network TV news show 20/20 planned to air segments of the conversation.

Local GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) Advisors were asked by GLSEN to put a clarion call out to their student members. One of these was art teacher Kate Okeson of Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School.

Would any of the students in her organization be willing to make the trip to Neptune and back, early on a Saturday morning, for the possibility of having a face to-face conversation with Rice?

As it turns out, she didn’t have to ask Kate Sherman twice.

“I thought it was terrific when I heard that Mike Rice had reached out to the GLSEN network,” said Sherman, a GSA member and senior at RFH. “I felt that he was making an honest effort, and that it was important for as many students from New Jersey as possible to show up and present their opinions.”

A Little Silver resident, Rice was the head Men’s Basketball Coach at Rutgers University in New Brunswick when footage aired by the ESPN Sports Network’s Outside the Lines program showed him throwing chairs at his players and assaulting them verbally with anti-gay slurs. The program aired on April 2, 2013, and caused a public outcry. Rice was fired the next day.

On the morning of November 9, the bleachers at Hoops were quickly filled with students from area high schools including Neptune High School, Monmouth Regional High School in Tinton Falls, and South Brunswick High School.

A crew filmed as Rice addressed the crowd, admitting that he had made a mistake and assuring them that he was dedicated to a course of improvement. He told the students that he was anxious to hear that they had to say, and asked if they had questions for him to answer.

“It was a really terrific group of kids,” said Sherman, who noted that a transgendered player on a male basketball team as well as a student government leader from a local high school were among those who spoke with Rice.

“Rice tried to explain that he used the language to get his players riled up, and both of those students noted that there are far more useful and less hurtful ways to get the job done,” said Sherman.

For her part, Sherman confronted Rice about shirking his responsibilities as a mentor and supporter of his players.

“I told him that by using the language that he did, and by acting in an abusive manner, he truly put his players in a difficult position,” said Sherman. “Coaches are supposed to be a source of support for their players, and his behavior put them between a rock and a hard place.”

Sherman noted that Rice listened intently to her opinion and seemed contrite about his actions.

“I explained that he risked alienating not only his players but a significant portion of the student body as well,” Sherman noted.

Although her segment did not air on the 20/20 program, Sherman was buoyed by her experience.

“I applied my gut feelings to the situation, and realized that perhaps my words would make a difference for someone else,” she said. “How many seventeen-year-olds get the opportunity to do something like that?”

Sherman said she was grateful for the encouragement of GSA Advisor Okeson, who urged her to voice her true feelings at the forum.

“GSA has had a huge impact on my thinking, and I feel strongly about being an ally and believing that everyone is equal” she said. “I admire GSA for its support of the LGBT community, and I think that it could really be renamed the Human Equality Persistence Club.”

The 17-year-old resident of Fair Haven is the daughter of Patricia Quigley and Todd Sherman. A member of GSA since her freshman year, Kate also participates in the RFH Environmental Club. She is an accomplished flute player, a member of the Marching, Jazz, and Symphonic Bands at RFH, and plans to pursue the study of art.