Story and photo by Chris Rotolo
RUMSON – Shock, despair and disbelief.
It was these distinct emotions that flooded the hallways this past October at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School (RFH), when a beloved friend, teammate and student named Pierce Jarck tragically took his own life at the age of 16.
Teddy Sourlis, a former classmate of Jarck’s, can still recall the over whelming anxiety that gripped him when he was forced to face the news of his friend’s passing.
“As a community it hit us hard,” said Sourlis, a member of the Bulldogs basketball program. “We were still processing losing another friend of ours, Jack Moore, the year prior, and out of the blue, so suddenly, we heard the news about Pierce. And I think it really opened our eyes as a community of teens.”
From tragedy, Sourlis and his classmates gained understanding and perspective about the topics of suicide and mental health that had been unexpectedly thrust into their lives.
“I think it helped us realize that things aren’t always what they appear on the outside,” said Sourlis. “Pierce was a great friend, a prominent lacrosse player, a good student at our school, but there was more going on inside than anyone knew. It brought attention to the fact that we need to be there for each other in other ways.”
This past football season provided a platform for longtime rivals like Red Bank Regional High School (RBR) and Red Bank Catholic (RBC) to join together with their heartbroken peers in Rumson in a sign of solidarity, as the student bodies came together during their respective games and wore the same color T-shirts in homage to Jarck.
Developing from this display of camaraderie was the idea for something more impactful, an event that would reach beyond their schoolyards and playing fields and deeper into the greater Ridge Road community.
With that mission in mind, the Ridge Road Run was conceived – an outing scheduled for Sunday, April 15 on the campus of Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School that will feature a 5K run starting at 9 a.m., as well as a one-mile race and kiddie dashes with start times to be announced.
“One of the things we hear all the time as administrators is how this generation of kids isn’t passionate; that they’re self-centered and self-serving,” said Risa Clay, Red Bank Regional High School principal. “But this event and the work these students are doing shows how passionate a community of kids can be when it’s a cause that hits close to home,” she said of the student organizers who are seeking volunteers, monetary donations and sponsorships at RidgeRoadRun.org.
Clay went on to speak of the immense pressure her students feel to achieve more, reaching for marks on an intangible measuring stick that perpetually appear out of reach and overshadow their accomplishments in and out of the classroom.
It’s a circumstance that has led RBR to institute mental health education as part of their curriculum, while providing an on-campus clinic dedicated to counseling students and their parents about how to cope with the stresses of life.
These types of curriculum additions and school-based offerings align with the goals of the Ridge Road Run, which are to put school rivalries aside for a unifying effort that hopes to open lines of communication between students, peers, parents, teachers and administrators, as well as to raise awareness about suicide, and funds to support both the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention and the Mental Health Association of Monmouth County.
“I’m impressed with the students’ initiative to bring this topic to the forefront,” said Kathy Booth Red Bank Catholic student assistant coordinator. “We have our rivalries, and they’re all in good fun, but to lose these young people is a loss we all share. This is a subject that can’t be hushed anymore. We need more awareness and more communication. And I believe this event will go a long way toward achieving that.”
“I think it’s going to be bigger than they ever expected,” Booth said.
The Ridge Road Run has been organized by RBR students Michael Eulner, Claudia Kelly and Thomas Lloyd; Ellie Gibney and Teddy Sourlis from RFH; and Courtney Carroll and Lily Salcedo from RBC.
For more information on the Ridge Road Run visit ridgeroadrun.org.
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