"I had no idea I was walking back into that locker room a fully strung out junkie," Chris Herren, the former McDonald's All-American basketball player from Fall River, told the Dover-Sherborn High School juniors and seniors who filled the Mudge Auditorium at one point yesterday morning.
Herren, whose rise and fall in the basketball universe has been chronicled from the time he was a high school senior in the bestselling book Fall River Dreams by Bill Reynolds to his own recent book (written with Bill Reynolds) Basketball Junkie: A Memoir and an ESPN documentary Unguarded, came to DSHS to tell the story of how he had everything before he started to use drugs, and how he threw it all away because his addiction got to the point where he didn't care about anything except getting his next high. Throughout his passionate speech, Herren stressed that "there's no difference between me and you," reminding the students that he too had once sat where they were and listened to a drug addict speak, only he didn't take it seriously because he didn't think it had anything to do with him.
Herren's appearance was arranged and organized by SPAN-DS and The Raider Way, a new student-athlete leadership group that was founded by seniors Mollie Brach and Keaton Stoner. Inspired by an MIAA sportsmanship summit, Brach and Stoner wanted to form an organization that utilized student-athletes as leaders. Using a process in which they had varsity coaches recommend student-athletes for the organization, they have about 85 members and are currently organizing mentoring programs for the middle school students.
"It's really exciting," Brach said of the formation and development of The Raider Way. "It's so real. It's incredible. It's really awesome."
Herren began speaking enthusiastically about how he started off at the end of his high school years. Walking back-and-forth across the stage as he spoke, he told the students about some of his on-the-court accomplishments, and how he could've gone to play for virtually any college in the country, but he was a Boston kid so he chose Boston College. He used powerful examples to show how high up he was and how far he fell, including pointing out only Allen Iverson was ranked higher at his position coming of high school his senior year.
The first time Herren tried cocaine was in a dorm, and he said he'd only try it once. That was a message he kept reiterating to the students at DSHS. He said he would only do it once, but he kept doing it again, and that's what can happen if you try it, so don't do it.
Herren told many powerful stories to show just how powerful addiction can be. One in particular was when he played for the Boston Celtics and was finally going to get to start a game for the first time. He said he called his dealer and waited, and when the dealer got stuck outside in traffic he went outside, ran down the street and got the drugs before going back inside to play the game. It had gotten to the point where he didn't care if he played well, or at all, anymore.
Listening to the story about the time he overdosed in his car and didn't even know it gave another example of the way substance abuse can take over a person's life. Herren got arrested when his car rolled into someone, and it wouldn't be the first time he would get arrested.
Towards the end, Herren brought up a point that he said he is asked often: are alcohol and marijuana really gateway drugs? Herren seemed to get angered by the thought of that question, telling the crowd, "every prostitute, junkie and crack addict- where do you think they started? No one starts with crack or heroin."
"[I think it was powerful] when he said 'I was here when I was 18,'" Stoner said. "'I only drink and smoke.' It gives a reality check. He was in the same shoes as we are."
Chris Herren left Dover-Sherborn students and The Raider Way with one last message: "Don't ever change who you are. Don't conform."