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THE BOYS NEXT DOOR
Bernard Lefkowitz
June 23, 1997
From an early age the jocks of suburban Glen Ridge pushed the limits, and no one ever pushed back. Then one day these princes of the playing fields lured a retarded girl to a basement—and raped her
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June 23, 1997

The Boys Next Door

From an early age the jocks of suburban Glen Ridge pushed the limits, and no one ever pushed back. Then one day these princes of the playing fields lured a retarded girl to a basement—and raped her

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With 14 kids in the average classroom, it's hard to imagine a student—or teacher—who didn't witness Kevin's behavior and the behavior of other jocks. One girl remembered that when the lights went on after a movie was shown in class, she saw Kevin smiling as his hand moved under his sweatpants. The student recalled the teacher saying, in a gently mocking tone, "There's Kevin with his hands down his pants."

Yet another student remembered sitting down in her morning detention class and seeing Kevin masturbating with his penis exposed. "He was just jacking off." she said. "There were 10, 11 kids in the class, and he was opening his fly and pulling his penis out. I didn't think anything of it, because he did it so often."

Kevin's behavior continued, generally unpunished. He attended classes and played on the football team. Ultimately, he was selected as co-captain.

It would be a mistake to interpret the jocks' treatment of women as solely sexual exhibitionism. They believed their status as athletes entitled them to dominate and humiliate women. By mistreating women—and getting away with it—they demonstrated their power. The older they got, the more domineering they became. Sometimes the girls were willing participants; often, they were not.

Young men and women in the class of '89 recalled times when a jock would pin a girl against a locker or a wall in the school hallway and grind his body against hers, simulating copulation. One young woman remembered how she hated passing the student lockers at the end of the school day. "Frequently, there'd be one of the jocks on the floor with a girl under him and they're writhing," she said. "Sometimes a teacher would come out of her room and see the squirming mass. She might say a cursory 'Stop. Don't do that.' But she would not say, 'Stop. I am going to escort you to the principal's office, where you'll get 8,000 days' CD [central detention].' "

Teachers (most of them women) said they saw certain jocks rough up some of the young female students. In rare instances the aggression toward young women in the class of '89 was noted in the school record. On Feb. 24, 1988, a school official wrote, Kevin Scherzer "slapped" a female student "across the mouth (after they were exchanging conversation) and then profusely apologized." The school official observed that "he [Kevin] appears to be 'out of control' emotionally."

At Glen Ridge High, athletics were effectively divorced from character. One assistant football coach praised the jocks for being "streetwise" and displaying "above-average toughness," "charisma" and "fearlessness" in a losing season. "It's very easy to quit a loser," he said, "and these kids didn't. That shows a lot of character." When the coach was asked about reports of drinking, voyeurism and harassment of young women, he said, "Never heard a word about it.... All I know is that every kid who played did what he was supposed to—on the field."

By the time she reached high school, Leslie was further than ever from her goal of being accepted as a normal teen. But she still loved athletics, which allowed her to play side by side with the so-called normal kids. Although she was moved to a special education program at Columbia High in the nearby suburb of Maplewood, she officially remained a student in the Glen Ridge system and was allowed to participate on the school's teams, which she did. She was on the Glen Ridge jayvee basketball squad for most of her four years in high school. Leslie got into games only toward the end and only when the outcome was already decided. She might occasionally run to the wrong end of the court and draw laughter, but she remained enthusiastic.

For retarded youngsters like Leslie, experts say, sports is not about beating your opponent. Many, in fact, don't even understand how a game is scored and may not realize afterward which team has won. But many of them love sports for the camaraderie it offers. It was great to make an impossible shot and be cheered, but it was just as great when everybody on the team put hands on hands after a timeout and the captain shouted, "One, two, three—win." That was team spirit, and she was part of it, and everybody won because they were all "friends."

That couldn't have been more different from the outlook of the mainstream athletes in Glen Ridge; for them sports was a means of gaining supremacy. But Leslie didn't care about becoming a leader. She longed for inclusion, if for no other reason than that she was so often excluded.

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