There's a point Ervin Mears Jr. wants people to understand, and it's the reason he filed a federal lawsuit when his son was ousted from the high school track team:
"Children have rights," Mears, 68, said, "just like any adult."
In this case, he said, it's the right to run.
On May 6, Mawusimensah Mears, a sophomore at Sterling Regional High School in Camden County, was kicked off the team, the suit says.
Eleven days later, his father sued in Camden, naming the coach, athletic director, principal, superintendent, and school board.
The suit says his son was subjected to bullying and harassment. It seeks $40 million plus 2012 and 2013 varsity letters and championship jackets.
Sterling's interim superintendent, Paul Spaventa, declined to comment, citing the pending litigation and student privacy.
"Interfering?" Mears asked, his voice rising in response to a question about whether filing a lawsuit was interfering with the school's prerogatives. "That's my son. I better interfere. I better make sure he gets every opportunity."
Is it rare for parents to sue over high school sports? Yes, according to local school and athletic officials, who say they have been threatened with suits but never actually sued.
Is it rare for parents to push hard to get their children off the bench? Not at all.
"Sports is a lightning rod," said athletic director Steve Iles at Delsea Regional High School in Franklinville. "If you look at society and our culture, sports is a very big part of it.
"It's an emotional issue anytime you are dealing with parents, children, and their sports," he said.
Mears, a disabled veteran from Lawnside, filed the suit on his own, without a lawyer's help.
He ran track in high school and the military and said his son "comes from a family of track winners." The boy was the "undefeated champ" in the 200-, 400-, and 800-meter runs as an eighth grader at a Catholic school in 2010, the suit says.
That promise, his father said, should have translated into a key spot on the team when, as a ninth grader, Mawusimensah entered Sterling Regional High School in Somerdale. Sterling draws about 950 students from Magnolia, Hi-Nella, Somerdale, Stratford, Laurel Springs, and other towns.
But things started to sour in his son's freshman year, Mears said, when he and his son's track coach disagreed over which races his son should run.
It's unfair, Mears said, that his son wasn't allowed to compete, even though he may have been faster than some seniors who raced. "If he doesn't qualify, then the clock will say he's not fast enough," said Mears, who worries his son may be losing out on the possibility of a college athletic scholarship.
Unexcused absences from practice were the official reason Mears said he was given for his son's dismissal. That's an excuse, Mears said. A family death and injured leg kept his son away.
"Participation in extracurricular activities is a right," Mears said.
Not allowing his son to participate constitutes bullying, harassment, and an "abusive school environment" in which the sophomore's rights to due process and freedom of speech were impeded, the suit says.more