Rogers left basketball behind, still aspiring to provoke change

2012-08-25T23:55:00Z 2015-01-22T14:03:40Z Rogers left basketball behind, still aspiring to provoke changeBy JONATHAN EDWARDS / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Charlie Rogers didn’t make the play everyone remembers.

Down two points to Lincoln Pius X in the 1996 girls state basketball tournament, it was a teammate, Kim Sublet, who nailed her first three-pointer of the season at the buzzer, giving the South Sioux City Cardinals the state championship.

Fewer people remember Rogers’ contribution in that game, and that’s sort of the Rogers way -- quiet but competitive. Fierce, not flashy. Nice.

Everyone says that about her.

Last month, it was Rogers who stunned Lincoln -- and the country -- when she said three masked men had busted into her Near South house, bound her and cut anti-gay slurs into her skin because she’s a lesbian.

Police last week said investigators believe Rogers staged the hate crime. She was arrested Tuesday and faces a misdemeanor charge of making a false report.

Back in 1996, during that championship game, it was Rogers' determination that in part set up Sublet’s buzzer beater. Working the post. Owning the paint. Making clutch baskets down the stretch that kept the Cardinals close.

“You could just see the determination in the post move,” said Kelly Flynn, Rogers’ coach when she played at South Sioux City. “Her attitude was just ‘I got the ball. You’re not going to stop me.’”

Flynn talked some more about Rogers' performance before stopping, sighing.

“I can still remember the look in the eyes.”

With the win, Rogers and her teammates helped launch a dynasty. The Cardinals won 10 of 11 state championships between 1995 and 2005, and USA Today ranked the 1996 team as one of the best in the nation.

Rogers and her teammates excelled playing basketball, but setting the stage for a decade-long dynasty was about working with younger players and establishing a culture as much as playing, Flynn said.

Rogers’ successors followed her lead, developing into players who would take the reins for the Cardinals.

“That was kinda the norm after that,” Flynn said of the bar Rogers and her peers set. “You work hard and then you try to give back to the program.”

A homegrown Husker

After a legendary high school career, Rogers came to Lincoln to play for the Huskers. She started 90 games over her four seasons, averaging 8.3 points a game. She remains their No. 4 shot blocker and No. 9 rebounder of all time.

But it wasn’t a cakewalk, said Jeff Walz, who was an assistant coach at Nebraska when Rogers played. Even at 6-foot-2, Rogers was a small post player in the Big 12. Still, she found a way to succeed.

“Charlie was always a hard worker ... always followed a game plan, always knew what was going on. She was solid. She was someone you could count on.”

She hit the weights and the books, according to all her coaches, just as she had in high school.

Rogers wasn’t a superstar, and didn’t have the attitude or flare to go with it, said Ervin Williams, the basketball team's director of operations when Rogers played.

“She was a little bit low-key. She wasn’t a ra-ra rouser always out being the life of the party and the center of attention,” he said.

In fact, she avoided the limelight, said Paul Sanderford, Rogers’ head coach at Nebraska.

“She was reserved, not very outgoing. The spotlight wasn’t a good thing at all. She was tense and competitive basketball-wise, but she was very quiet.”

Rogers was a little bit insecure, Sanderford said, and wasn’t always the happiest person because of troubles at home.

But she wanted to belong to the group and have friends, Williams said.

“She wanted people to like her,” he continued. “She wanted to do the right thing for the right reason.”

Leaving basketball behind

Neither Sanderford, Williams nor Flynn know much about what happened with Rogers after they coached her.

That’s unusual, Sanderford said. Most of his players stay in touch after they leave college, but not Rogers, who graduated in 2002 with a degree in sociology.

Sanderford hasn’t heard from her in about five years. Several of Rogers' former teammates either declined to comment or didn't respond to requests for comment over recent days.

“She just kind of went off the radar after basketball,” he said.

Williams said he ran into her once soon after college when she was working at a laundromat. She had dyed her hair black and gotten into the heavy metal scene, he said.

“Her whole personality changed. She looked different. Her hair was different. If you didn’t know her, you probably wouldn’t recognize her.”

Just as Rogers wound down her basketball career, she met Dawn Wilson at Panic at the Disco, a local gay bar.

Wilson said she’s not close friends with Rogers, but ran into her nearly every time she got off work and went down to the bar, something she did once a week. They’d say hi and catch up.

Rogers came off as shy at first, but once Wilson got to know her, Rogers opened up.

“She’s a fun person. She’s funny,” Wilson said. “She has a great personality.”

Part of that personality is a desire and willingness to help others, Wilson said.

From 2001 to 2007, she held a state license to assist nurses as a medication aide.

Rogers now owns a small lawn care business, according to her lawyer. Wilson thinks her friend started it within the last year.

Rogers offered to mow and take care of Wilson’s lawn, something Rogers’ neighbors said she did without asking.

She also loves dogs, Wilson said, and so she fostered them.

Linda Rappl, the neighbor who called 911 after Rogers appeared at her door, naked and bleeding, said she was worried about at least one of the four dogs still at the house Rogers said was on fire.

Helping is just what Charlie does, Wilson said. One time, a smoker at Panic ran out of cigarettes. Rogers didn’t have any on her but went out to her car and offered to give up an entire pack.

“That’s how she is. She’s always willing to give you her last cigarette.”

Taking the lead

A week before Rogers told police that three masked men had attacked her, she helped prepare for one of Lincoln’s biggest LGBTQ events: Star City Pride weekend.

She was in charge of setting up and then breaking down vendors’ booths for the event, something Wilson helped her with.

Lincoln’s gays and lesbians crowned her Mr. Star City Pride at the group’s annual festival. (The event dictates the traditional gender roles for royalty get swapped, so a gay man is named queen and a lesbian king.)

As the honor requires, Rogers performed for the crowd, Wilson said. She lip-synced and brought people up from the audience, including kids, to dance.

Rogers seemed to like performing despite being a shy person by nature, Wilson added.

“She seemed to really enjoy that, to be there, being honored to be Mr. Star City Pride,” she said.

Rogers told police the three men cited the performances with children as the reason they were attacking her.

Rogers intended to wield her new position to spark change that would help people, said Wilson, the only member of Lincoln's LGBT community who agreed to speak about Rogers.

“Being Mr. Star City Pride meant a lot to her,” Wilson said. “She was wanting to make a difference.”

A few days after getting her crown and four days before she would report the alleged hate crime against her, Rogers promised to be a catalyst that would foment change, create something new that would help everyone.

“I believe way deep inside me that we can make things better for everyone,” she wrote on Facebook on July 18. “I will be a catalyst. I will do what it takes. I will.

“Watch me.”

Steven M. Sipple contributed to this report. Reach Jonathan Edwards at 402-473-7395 or jedwards@journalstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/LJSedwards.

Copyright 2015 JournalStar.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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