Chris Herren spoke a lot about regrets. “I wish I could go back to 18, walk out of this assembly and say ‘today’s going to be different,’ ” said Herren, a star basketball player who indicated he virtually led the sport in second chances.

“I’ve been at the top and I’ve been at the bottom,” Herren told the Thursday, Sept. 11 gathering at Huntingtown High School (HHS). The former National Basketball Association (NBA) guard also addressed an assembly at Calvert High School (CHS) the previous afternoon. Herren appeared at the Calvert County schools through the efforts of Farming 4 Hunger and its founder Bernie Fowler Jr.

Herren entered the auditorium after a 15-minute film chronicled his topsy-turvy life. Standing the entire time in front of the HHS auditorium stage, he recalled his own teen years in New England when motivational speakers would address similar school assemblies and warn students not to drink and do drugs. His reaction then was denial—he would exit the auditorium thinking addiction was something that wouldn’t happen to him. Herren told the students that despite his disbelief that he could succumb to substance abuse and addiction, the foundation for such an unsavory existence was already under construction.

During his years at Durfee High School in Massachusetts, Herren was highly regarded and heavily recruited by colleges. While excelling on the basketball court, however, Herren was consuming alcohol and getting stoned with friends. He told the students that 90 percent of society’s drug addicts started out as kids drinking.

Herren’s abusive behavior seemed to have very little impact on his performance as an athlete. The downward spiral began during his freshman year at Boston College following an injury and a failed drug test.

The new demon that had been introduced into Herren’s life during his freshman year of college was cocaine. Which each stop he made—from Fresno State University, to the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, his home state favorite Boston Celtics and playing pro ball and making good money in Italy—Herren’s star would rise before crashing to Earth due to his use of cocaine, prescription pills and eventually heroin. It was the latter drug that nearly caused his death.

Sober for the past six years, Herren today coaches basketball and addresses organizations, groups, athletic teams and schools all across the country. He indicated he was aware that his sobriety will always be a fragile thing. “I’m not going to live in the struggle alone,” he declared.

While he never used the words “peer pressure” during his talk at HHS, it appeared to be the subtext of his remarks. “What’s so bad about your life that you need to risk ending it?” He asked.

The few students who bravely stood up, came center stage and told of their torment—being bullied for acting different, problems at home— were each embraced by Herren when they finished speaking.

“Aren’t we better human beings than making another human being feel little?” Herren asked the students. He implored the students, “don’t let it end here. Real kids—tough guys and girls—don’t pick on kids. They make those kids feel better about themselves.”

At the assembly’s outset HHS Principal stated, “today’s topic is a very serious one.” Weber noted that an estimated 35 percent of HHS students have admitted to having an experience with substance abuse. “You’ve told us it’s a problem,” said Weber. The principal promised there would be follow-ups to Herren’s message. “There is help available for you in this community,” said Weber.

Community leaders who attended Herren’s talk at CHS Wednesday, Sept. 10 have expressed optimism that the address will prove effective in the community’s protracted fight against substance abuse.

“Very powerful,” said Commissioner Susan Shaw, who noted Herren’s appearance was “a gift from Farming 4 Hunger.”

“It was one of the best presentations I have ever heard,” said Calvert Board of Education President Dr. Eugene Karol. “I think we need to do more programs like that.”

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com