Unregulated private coaching ripe for abuse
Wednesday, December 17, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 a.m.
Every year during basketball season, the stories would come out, passed in the bleachers from parent to parent: Coach Tony Giles molested his players.
In fact, Giles often talked about the allegations himself although he said they were lies concocted by people jealous of his abilities.
And for years, dozens of parents believed him, paying Giles as much as $600 a month to coach their daughters in his Seattle-area basketball program called Players Only. He told them that with his help, the girls would win college scholarships a dream that has become increasingly prevalent over the past decade as girls' participation in sports has nearly caught up to that of boys.
Giles' players did get scholarships, but some had to pay a price. Over the past year, one former player, then another and finally a third, told prosecutors that the rumors were true: He used their dreams of college scholarships as a lure to coerce them to have sex with him.
"Nobody ever talked about what was going on," said Devon Crosby-Helms, 21, the first victim to come forward. "It was a shared shame."
Last year, Giles was charged with a crime for molesting Crosby-Helms, yet parents continued to sing his praises.
He declined to talk to a reporter, but his brother, Lance, who helped run Players Only, said, "My brother is completely innocent."
A Seattle Times investigation has found the increasingly competitive world of women's sports offers a new landscape of opportunity for the unscrupulous minority of predatory coaches like Giles. Hundreds of elite private teams like Players Only have sprung up across the country to meet girls' growing demands for better training, yet the coaches in this private world have no bosses and no regulations.
The Times investigation revealed another troubling phenomenon: Coaches who were reprimanded or resigned from Washington schools because of sexual misconduct can easily slip into this unregulated world of private coaching. The Times found 10 coaches who have made this leap.
Parents should be a line of defense, but for many reasons, they often aren't. Most don't believe their handpicked coaches are capable of abuse. In some cases, the coaches actually groom the parents to gain their trust. And their daughters don't seek their parents' help out of fear of disappointing them.
Meanwhile, these few unscrupulous coaches keep victimizing girls. "He continued to do this," said Crosby-Helms, "because nobody ever said stop."
SPORTS EXPLOSION FUELS ELITE TEAMS
College scholarships often hinge on participation
In the 1980s, he taught in the Lake Washington School District, including at BEST High School, where the principal said he told Giles to stop flirting with the female students. He was forced to resign in 1987, but his file doesn't give a reason.
About this time, area schools, churches and social organizations were receiving hundreds of obscene phone calls from a man saying he had just kidnapped a teenage girl and was going to rape her.
"I've done it before and I'm going to do it again," the caller boasted to one victim, according to testimony in King County District Court.
Police traced one call back to Giles' Bellevue home; in 1989, he was convicted of telephone harassment, a misdemeanor.
After that, he became a girls basketball coach at Holy Family Catholic School, but in 1992, a group of eighth-graders came forward with sexual-misconduct allegations. One girl said he French-kissed her, and another said he grabbed her leg and licked her thigh, according to a police report. The girls were afraid to press charges, but the principal said she told Giles he had to leave.
The growth of girls basketball, as well as all the other girls sports, has its roots in a 1972 law known as Title IX, which required schools to provide girls the same opportunities as boys. The law has forced colleges to offer thousands more athletic scholarships for girls, and as a result, they're increasingly turning to private teams like Players Only for help.
Today, an estimated 117,000 girls play Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball on club teams nationwide, 3,000 of them in Western Washington.
"Everybody thinks they need to do something to get an edge," said Roger Hansen, a longtime girls basketball coach and a former athletic director in the Lake Washington District. "The thought is, 'If I pay enough money and get enough coaching, my kid is going to get a college scholarship.' But those scholarships are few and far between."
Although many club teams are run by parents free of charge, others are run by professionals who charge thousands of dollars for high-level instruction. For certain sports especially basketball girls have little chance of getting a college scholarship unless they play on select teams. That's partly because the NCAA limits the contacts between college coaches and high-school athletes. For girls basketball, that period is a few weeks in the summer, which is when club teams hold their tournaments. That makes coaches-for-hire the main conduit between girls and coveted college scholarships.
But unlike school-based sports, where school administrators can keep tabs on the coach, in club sports no one is in charge but the coach himself.
In a state that licenses everybody from manicurists to snowmobile sellers, Washington coaches do not need a license. Even the AAU, the largest organization for club sports, doesn't require training or certification, nor does it conduct criminal-background checks on coaches who join the association.
Girls club sports, in other words, have become a perfect setup for predators.
SUCCESS BRINGS DEVOTED FOLLOWING
Giles convinced parents and girls that he was the key
Among the legions of club coaches, Giles had something the others didn't.
"When he walks in the gym, it's like a Pied Piper," said Hansen, who thinks Giles is a great coach but a lousy person. "Kids kind of run to him."
One of Giles' great strengths as a coach was focusing on the self-esteem of his self-conscious, tall and gawky girls. His mantra was repetition and determination shooting 200 or 300 free throws until you get it right.
Somehow, he made it fun. Giles liked to take the girls on little adventures, like going blindfolded to a secret location he called The Castle which to the uninitiated looks like an ordinary basketball court with lights and a roof where they'd shoot hoops on Saturday night, giggling and giddy.
"Ask anybody. It was the time of our life, the most fun we ever had," said Lindsey Wilson, the player who became Giles' best-known success story.
Back in 1997, when she joined Giles, Wilson was a sophomore struggling to get her game. Under his keen-eyed coaching, Wilson was transformed. She won county and state awards as a Roosevelt High School Roughrider, and finally a scholarship to Iowa State University, a Division I school. Five of her Players Only teammates nabbed Division I scholarships, too.
Aspiring local athletes couldn't help but notice.
"They produced (Wilson), so everyone wanted what she had," player Cecily O'Rielly said.
It didn't hurt that Giles cultivated an air of ultimate authority, convincing parents that their girls were good enough to play college ball with his help. As a result, they got out their checkbooks.
To those on the outside, however, the program seemed more like a cult.
"(These parents) have knowingly served their kids on a platter, all for the goal of getting a basketball scholarship," said one parent, who did not allow her daughter to play for Giles. "It's parental egos that are huge in this. That's because if Tony Giles goes down, the fingers all come pointing back to them."
MAKING BASKETBALL THEIR WHOLE LIVES
A victim is coerced into sex under the threat of losing the game she loves
(The Times generally does not identify people who were sexually victimized. The women quoted in this story agreed to be identified.)
Her passion brought her into the orbit of Giles, a captivating coach who told her she could be an all-star and get that scholarship if she followed his every instruction.
Crosby-Helms joined Players Only, his elite girls-basketball program, in 1997. When Giles began showing her extra attention, she was thrilled, even though she, like her teammates, knew of his reputation. Soon she began spending time with him after practice and at his Renton home.
"In the beginning, I never thought he was being nice to me for some ulterior motive," she recalled. "You don't think, 'He must be a sexual predator.' Little red lights don't go off."
One day, the 40-year-old coach took her to his house, got her out of her clothes and persuaded the 15-year-old to have sex with him, she said. He was the coach, and she was afraid to say no.
At first, Giles acted like he was her boyfriend. Crosby-Helms thought he loved her. She began to lie to her mother and her friends so she could spend all her time with him.
When Julie Crosby started to wonder about her daughter's relationship with Giles, Devon would fight and threaten to run away, insisting there was nothing to worry about.
"Because I usually got the truth, I wanted to believe her," Julie Crosby said. "We all wanted to believe what our kids told us: that all of this money we were putting out was for basketball and basketball alone. It's really hard to take that look at yourself and say, 'Is it possible my daughter might be a victim?' "
Julie Crosby knew if she pulled Devon from Players Only, her daughter would be crushed.
Devon felt the same about her mom. "I wanted my mother to love me, but the only time I saw her happy is when I played basketball," Crosby-Helms said.
Giles, meanwhile, fueled fights between mother and daughter, convincing Devon that her mother didn't want her to succeed. At Giles' urging, she practiced even harder, sometimes eight hours a day.
"He builds up your mentality so your whole self-worth is in basketball," she said. "I didn't have my family. I didn't have my friends. I didn't have anything. All I had was basketball."
Eventually, other players confided to her that Giles was having sex with them. She was devastated. "Once I realized I wasn't the only one, it was like being out in the middle of Puget Sound trying to get to shore. I can't swim that far," Crosby-Helms said.
But she never told her friends the truth, that she, too, was sleeping with the coach.
When Crosby-Helms tried refusing Giles' advances, things got even worse. She recalled the exchange this way: "I don't want to have sex with you," she would say.
"OK, I don't want to play basketball with you anymore," Giles would shoot back. "You won't get into college I'll make sure of it."
And for three years, Crosby-Helms did as he asked so she could play college ball.
BREAKING SILENCE BRINGS BACKLASH
Fans of the coach don't believe it when girls come forward with accusations
Other girls, who knew or suspected Giles was having sex with their teammates, also kept quiet, believing that he alone had the power to get scholarships.
"We didn't want Tony to stop teaching us or tell coaches that we are bad players and don't deserve a scholarship," said O'Rielly, a player who wasn't abused.
Crosby-Helms got a basketball scholarship to Fresno State University, which thrilled her and her parents. But far from Seattle, she began to feel crushed by the feeling that she had ruined her life by dedicating it to the thing she most loved, basketball. Within two months, she dropped out.
She was good enough that the University of Washington, where she later enrolled, offered her a tryout for the team, but she didn't even follow up on the offer.
"The person I had become was so disgusting to me that I didn't want to exist like that anymore," she said.
In making the break from basketball, she said, she realized she also could break free from Giles. Before long she went to the police.
Last year, Giles was charged with sexual misconduct with a minor. The news thundered through the girls club-team ranks. But instead of supporting Crosby-Helms, many of her old teammates and their parents called her a liar. She lost almost all of her basketball friends.
"I don't think it happened because I never saw any of it," said Lindsey Wilson. Crosby-Helms and other accusers of Giles made up these allegations, Wilson said, because they "couldn't cut it."
Disbelief is a common reaction when a trusted figure is accused of abuse.
"It's a problem we run into all the time," said Lucy Berliner, a social worker who runs the sexual-assault clinic at Harborview Medical Center. "It's (hard for) parents to believe that people who appear to be doing something nice for their child are actually sexually abusing them."
But in the world of competitive athletics, there are other issues, as well. An athlete may seem stronger, more driven and more self-assured than her peers, but her very passion for the game makes her more vulnerable because sports is her life and the team is her family. Like Crosby-Helms, many athletes keep sex abuse secret.
If they break rank, they are threatening the whole team's success, said Sandra Kirby, a Canadian sociologist and author of a book on sexual abuse of athletes. "It's full of risk," she said. "This is their primary group where they get their emotional support and identity, and they could lose it overnight."
ANOTHER VICTIM COMES FORWARD
After staying quiet for a decade, an adult says she was assaulted as a 13-year-old
Until Crosby-Helms came forward, Natalie Duryea, too, had been keeping a secret. As a seventh-grader in 1992, she said she became one of Giles' victims.
When she first attended a basketball camp he ran, Duryea said, he was very complimentary. Soon, compliments turned to hugging, then kissing and finally sex.
"We would go behind a tree in the park," she recalled. "When you're 13, how do you know how to date people? He tells you that this is what people do."
Like Crosby-Helms, Duryea, now 24, said Giles was manipulative, one day flattering her, the next snubbing her. "It was always high drama. All of a sudden, you're not his best girl anymore. You were really stressed out about it and wanting to stay number one."
One day, at an out-of-town tournament, they argued and he hit her, she said. The "relationship" was over at that point, but Duryea kept her mouth shut.
After she heard about Crosby-Helms' charges, she told prosecutors her story. But by that time, the statute of limitations had passed.
TURNING POINT CAME IN FIGHTING BACK
Victims realize they had the power to stop the abuser
When another victim heard the news that Giles had been charged, she literally collapsed to the floor, struggling under the weight of two conflicting feelings: relief that she might finally unburden herself of a secret, but ashamed with the thought that her silence may have allowed others to be victimized.
Now in her 20s, the woman told police and The Times that Giles started having sex with her when she was 14 years old and on a team coached by Giles. She declined to have her name printed.
"I considered him my boyfriend," she said. "When you're on his team, everyone loves him so much. It made you feel special."
Giles groomed her parents as effectively as he groomed her, she said. For example, she remembers sneaking out to a party one night only to have Giles inform her parents about it. She got punished while Giles earned their trust.
Her family even hung a stocking for him every year and invited him for Christmas dinner.
"He excelled in making the whole family feel that he was by far the best choice we could make for our daughter," the woman's mother said. "We truly believed that she would only play college ball if she worked with him constantly."
Over time, the victim began to fear him. Once neighbors called police when they were fighting outside his house. He was arrested for domestic violence, but she didn't follow through on the charges, court records show.
But at that point, she was in too deep to tell anyone. "At the very least, you don't want to make your parents look like they're bad parents," she said. Plus, "my dad might feel like he facilitated it."
She waited to come forward until after her father died, she said, but by that time, the statute of limitations had passed for Giles to be charged.
She, too, was called a liar by those who favored Giles.
"Until I have it proven to me, I don't believe it," said Bob Crosetto, whose daughter was on Players Only.
But for all three victims, something else was happening. They realized they had the power to stop him.
Last year, the third victim went on a frantic tear through her basement, looking for something anything that would prove she was telling the truth. Finally, she came across a packet of negatives. One contained a graphic photograph she took of her and Giles when she was a teen. She gave it to prosecutors.
It was the turning point. Confronted with a photo that undermined his claim that he never had sex with any athlete, Giles pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct with a minor for molesting Crosby-Helms.
In August, he was sentenced to 40 months in prison.
To longtime public-school coach Hansen, the Tony Giles story says a lot about club sports.
"When you buy into that kind of organization," he said, "you're opening yourself up for abuses."
Maureen O'Hagan: 206-464-2562 or email@example.com
Christine Willmsen: 206-464-3261 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company
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