(Pictured from Left to Right-Andy King, Jose Sotillo, and Daniel Acker)
A string of accusations and convictions over the past few weeks have brought some unwanted national attention to the sport of swimming.
Jose Sotillo, a former swim coach and manager at the Suburban Swim Club in Newtown, Pennsylvania, has been levied with 11 charges that involve the alleged theft of $112, 219. According to the Daily Times, on February 2nd, Sotillo entered pleas for the 11 charges, but rejected an offer of two-to-five years in state prison offered by the Assistant District Attorney. The charges include a three-and-a-half to seven year prison sentence for each charge, plus $15,000 in fines, in addition to any restitution. Sotillo pilfered the money gradually over time through various methods, including funneling money through his online marketing firm, cashing unauthorized checks, and making unauthorized purchases for personal use.
Although Sotillo’s crime was awful, and drove his club into bankruptcy, his violation of trust between employee and employer is not nearly as agregious as coaches who violate the trust between instructor and parent.
Two other cases involve coaches violating this trust, specifically in the form of sexual assault and molestation.
Andy King, a former coach and aquatics director in Suburban Seattle, was charged with sexually mollesting at least a dozen young swimmers. According to Seattlepi.com, King pled no contest to 20 counts of child molestation in a California courtroom and was sentenced to 40 years in jail, which effectively amounts to a life-sentence for the 61-year old. King was employed at the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District in Oak Harbor, Washington until 1997, when he mysteriously disappeared following rumors that he acted inappropriately with young girls.
The first formal charges were levied in 2000, when a former Oak Harbor swimmer filed a complaint that alleged rape in molestation while King was her coach from 1994-1997. The girl was only 12 and 13 years old during that period. After detectives failed to file charges for the complaint, she filed a $15 million dollar claim against the North Whidbey Parks and Recreation Department, alleging that they were “negligent in hiring, training, retaining and supervising King.”
After further specific reports alleging molestation of under-age girls, a full-blown investigation revealed that King was a serial pedophile.
The second case is Daniel Acker, of West Allis Wisconsin. Acker, 62, was sentenced today (February 5th) to 20 years in prison, plus eight year probation, for sexually assaulting teenage boys. Although there were 14 former swimmers who alleged abuse, Acker could only be charged in 2 cases due to how long ago some of the crimes happened, according to channel3000.com.
He was quoted in a statement read by his lawyer “I recognize the wrongs of my behavior. I ask forgiveness for the pain I’ve caused others. I seek treatment and counseling to release me from the yearnings to do so again.”
These two cases violate years of trust that parents all over the country put in swim coaches. It makes many of them rethink leaving their children alone with coaches unsupervised. Robin Baxter, a mother with a teenaged swimmer in Suburban Houston, responded with an emphatic “Hell yes” when asked if she would reconsider the relationship her swimmer has with her coaches as a result of these stories on the other side of the country.
“Even a 17 yr old is vulnerable,” Baxter told TheSwimmersCircle.
Swim coaches are in a unique position, because the sport of swimming is coached by professionals even at a very young age. Unlike other popular sports, like soccer and baseball, there is very little direct parent involvemen in the swimmers’ training.
“They love them so much they’ll do anything for them, they start to feel like their coach will be the only one who understands you, or they are your only family. And they’ll do whatever it is to please them, more than they would for their parents. That’s insane.” Baxter observed.
Ms. Baxter makes an excellent point. Swim coaches have great power over their swimmers, but with great power comes great responsibility. She also noted that she did not think that prison time was a stiff enough sentence for these men, and instead advocated some more creative punishments that were not fit for print.
And just to prove that all swim coaches aren’t bad, here’s a positive story out of Fort Cambell, Kentucky. David Scherer, an assistant coach for the Fort Cambell Swimming Eagles, broke a world record to raise money for his team. Scherer found a unique way to put his swim training to use for a good cause by breaking the world record for the longest stretch of playing “Grand Theft Auto IV”. Cambell played for an incredible 55 straight hours, stopping only for bathroom breaks, which is over 2 days.
“It’s been really grueling,” David said. “But my swimming and cardio training and all the sleep I got [before] really paid off,” the Courier quoted Scherer as saying.
Although the long-term goal for the Eagles is to raise enough money for an indoor facility, parents said the biggest boost Scherer offered was to the team’s morale. For the time being, the money Scherer raised is being put towards a dome over the Austin Peay State University pool that his team currently uses for practice.