Racing to the Courthouse

Published June 7, 2013

Claiming “Participation in extracurricular activities is a right,” Ervin Mears Jr. of Lawnside, New Jersey has sued the coach, athletic director, principal, superintendent of schools, and school board of Sterling Regional High School in Camden County for $40 million and the award of varsity letters and championship jackets for the years 2012 and 2013 because his sophomore son, Mawusimensah, was kicked off the track team for unexcused absences from practice.

Although Mears admits his son indeed skipped practices due to a death in the family and an injured leg, Mears claims keeping his son off the team constitutes bullying, harassment, and an “abusive school environment” in which his son’s rights to due process and freedom of speech were impeded, and that the school’s decision will deprive his son of future scholarship opportunities. He also claims that, dating back to his freshman year, his son didn’t get to start in the events that he deserved.

For his part, the 16-year-old Mawusimensah reportedly says, “I felt in a way, disrespected. … At practice, I work hard and I try to be the best athlete I can be, but at meet time, I didn’t get the respect that I thought I deserved.”

Gloucester City School District superintendent Joseph Rafferty, a former track coach and athlete and the father of children on sports teams, says he understands how both Messrs. Mears and the track coach feel, but that individual prowess must be weighed against overall team score and “sometimes you’re not going to make anybody happy.”

Sources: Jane M. Von Bergen, “Father sues after teen is dropped from track team,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 28, 2013; Walter Olson, “N.J.: student kicked off track team, father sues,”