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Closer Scrutiny : Recent Cases of Alleged Sexual Misconductr May Prompt County Coaches to Polish Up a Tarnished Image

October 03, 1995|WENDY WITHERSPOON | Times Staff Writer

The stories are so abominable they defy comprehension, so shocking they resist belief. And yet, so frequent they demand attention.

Consider:

--Mark Schuster, respected Corona del Mar High football coach, was recently accused by police of having unlawful sex with his 18-year-old stepdaughter. Officers confiscated photographs from Schuster's home showing the girl topless and in a G-string. He has been charged with 16 felony counts of unlawful sexual intercourse and one felony count of oral copulation. Schuster, who will be arraigned in Orange County Superior Court Nov. 2, has proclaimed his innocence.

--Rich Prospero, former Santa Ana Valley basketball coach, is scheduled to be arraigned today on charges he had sex with a 16-year-old student and embezzled nearly $8,000 from a sports booster club. He has pleaded not guilty.

--Cory Colbert, former assistant baseball coach at Ocean View High, was found by a police officer partially clad in a car with a 15-year-old girl last year. Colbert, 24, pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of unlawful sexual intercourse and was sentenced to 200 hours of community service.

In the wake of these incidents in the last 18 months, the high school athletic community is grappling with the issue of sexual misconduct by coaches. In interviews last week, Orange County athletic administrators, coaches, athletes and parents gave a variety of opinions about the prevalence of the allegations. Most concurred there is a need for awareness.

"Anything like that should be totally blown out of proportion--let everyone know about it," Servite football player Dan Levesque said. "It's the worst thing you could do to another human being."

In the 1994-95 fiscal year, the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing took disciplinary action against 68 credentialed educators after receiving allegations of sexual abuse. The allegations ranged from non-criminal touching of a child to child molestation and statutory rape. The commission meted out punishments that ranged from private admonishments to revocation of licenses.

If criminal charges are brought against a credentialed educator, the commission is notified and the teacher's license is automatically suspended until the educator is convicted or acquitted. Even if the criminal charges are dismissed, the commission can still revoke an educator's credential.

The number of educators who were punished for sexual abuse in the state last year by the commission represents a small percentage, .03%, of all credentialed teachers and administrators. Further, just a fraction of that percentage involved coaches.

But the question is, how many cases of abuse are too many?

"I think they are taken as isolated instances, but they should be taken in more high regard," said Alessio Smith, a Cal State Fullerton freshman soccer player and 1995 graduate of Newport Harbor High. "They shouldn't blow it off as just another case."

Beyond Orange County, several cases involving coaches have received widespread publicity in recent years.

Ventura High's Harvey Kochel, the most successful football coach in school history, served a year in state prison after pleading guilty in 1992 to having a seven-month sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student.

The victims of some coaches' sexual abuse also have included boys.

In Hemet, former football coach Randy Brown told players that a botched vasectomy ruined his sex life and he coerced them to have sex with his wife, Kelly Brown, to salvage his marriage and help the team. Under a plea bargain, Brown gave up his teaching credential, the couple was given five years probation and ordered to register as sex offenders.

Bill Christiansen, Laguna Beach girls' volleyball coach, said that when he was a player at Laguna Beach more than 20 years ago, a male coach from another school approached him and asked him on a date. Christiansen declined the invitation and never reported the incident and declined to name the coach or school.

Officials say it is impossible to know how many high school coaches violate their special position of trust with young people.

"I think the whole nature of pedophilia [adults who have a consistent sexual interest in children] is so scary because every time it does surface in the paper, you hear about how widespread it really is and I think parents have a right to be concerned," said Rob O'Rear, athletic director and girls' volleyball coach at San Clemente High. "I don't honestly know what the answer is to keep those people away from the kids 100%. There is no litmus test to say, 'This is a pedophile, this is not a pedophile.' "

A Black Eye

Coaches across the county said they felt tainted by the recent allegations against a few of their colleagues.

"I feel personally like it is very negative thing for our profession," said John Barnes, football coach and athletic director at Los Alamitos. "Every time you see [reports of misconduct] you just feel like everybody in the profession is probably looked at a little bit differently."

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