Norman Watson still misses the game he loves most. He misses the
dusty world of Little League baseball. He misses riding to the
games on a motorcycle, and he misses managing and umpiring and
the feeling that Little League gave him, the sense that in a
life of drift he somehow belonged. Come the shades of
nightfall--as he stokes the embers of his darksome fantasies in
his prison cell--he also misses sex with his preferred partners.
He misses the boys.
Blue-eyed and articulate, cool and composed, Watson hardly fits
the stereotype of the child molester--a snaggletoothed gargoyle
in a trench coat at the edge of a playground, leering at the
downy-limbed children playing on the swings. That was never
Watson, never his pedophiliac style, though he has spent most of
his 54 years sexually preying on children. By his own count, he
figures he has molested "a couple of hundred" children over
three decades. Most of them were youngsters, between the ages of
11 and 14, whom he first met through his work in Little League.
With many of those kids he spun his sticky web into affairs that
lasted months and even years.
It's because of his uncontrolled desire for sex with boys that
Watson is sitting this August day in a small cubicle inside a
large California prison, serving the second year of an 84-year
sentence that will end no sooner than his life. Hands folded on
a table, now smiling at a remembrance, now teary-eyed at
another, he occasionally glances out the window to a larger
visitors' room, waving or nodding to some fellow prisoners while
scanning the faces of others. He lives warily these days, an
undiscovered pariah leading a life of maximum insecurity. To
other prison inmates, child molesters rank somewhere between
roaches and the AIDS virus, but despite the dangers of revealing
the nature of his crimes--he has until now kept them secret from
his fellow inmates--Watson sees a redeeming value in granting
this interview. "My life is over anyway," he says. "Maybe I can
say something that will make sense to parents...."
After so many years in the criminal justice system, after so
many years of counseling and therapy, Watson has reached this
ineluctable conclusion: He should die within these walls that
now confine him. "I think it's good I'm no longer in the
position to do any more damage," he says. "I have hurt people
out there. I've sat here, and I've had plenty of time to think
about it, and I know some abused kids have been scarred for
life.... I have a predisposition to want to be around, and am
sexually aroused by, young boys. I can't be where I have access
Sixteen months earlier, during his sentencing hearing in a San
Bernardino (Calif.) County courthouse, Watson, at times weeping
with his face in his hands, had sat and listened as angry,
tearful parents, some with their long-molested children at their
sides, sent him off to prison with cries of execration. He'd
pleaded guilty to 39 counts of lewd acts with children, four
boys and a girl, that had occurred between 1990 and '96, when
Watson was a San Bernardino Little League coach and umpire and
the five kids were all playing in the league. Unbeknownst to the
players' parents, Watson was on probation during much of that
span for a 1980 molestation offense in nearby Riverside. None of
the parents knew that their beloved and winning coach--this
glib, engaging soul who had lived with and among them, who had
so generously baby-sat their kids, taken the youngsters to
movies and bought them expensive gifts--had undergone more than
five years of treatment in two state mental hospitals for child
molesting. One of those institutions was Patton State Hospital
in San Bernardino, not far from the East Base Line Little League
field where Watson would become a leading coach.
By the time Watson was sentenced, the parents' sense of betrayal
had mutated into fury. One by one, parents and children rose at
the sentencing to read their victim-impact statements. "You made
my life a wreck," said one 13-year-old victim. "You scared these
kids, took advantage of their innocence and suffocated them so
they would not tell on you," a parent said. Another parent
looked at Watson and said, "You're worse than a thief. You're
worse than a murderer. A thief steals what can be replaced. A
murderer kills his victim one time. What you have done to these
children is going to last the rest of their lives, and
unfortunately history says that a fair portion of your victims
are going to start victimizing others as you have done.... I
hope you rest in hell."
Now Watson shifts in his cubicle chair and rubs the stubble on
his face. "I've got a lot of time to think in here," he says. "I
don't allow myself to think about what I've done to all those
people because I don't think I could handle it. There's one
thing that's helped me since I've been incarcerated here: I'm
where I belong."
In preying on prepubescent and newly pubescent athletes, Watson
was hardly a lone wolf. While there have been no formal studies
to determine how many child molesters have coached youth teams,
a computer-database search of recent newspaper stories reveals
more than 30 cases just in the last 18 months of coaches in the
U.S. who have been arrested or convicted of sexually abusing
children engaged in nine sports from baseball to wrestling--and
this despite the fact that child sex-abuse victims, for reasons
ranging from shame and embarrassment to love or fear of their
molesters, rarely report the crime. For every child who reports
being molested, according to a variety of experts on the sexual
exploitation of children, at least 10 more keep their secrets
unrevealed. The molesters are almost always men, and in youth
sports most, though not all, of the victims are boys. (The one
girl Watson admitted molesting was only five when he began
abusing her. He says because she was a player he viewed her "as
just one of the boys.")
Today the reporting of child molestation in youth sports is
about where the reporting of rape in society was 30 years ago.
However, there are indications that things are changing, that
after decades of being ignored, minimized or hidden away, the
molestation of players by their coaches is no longer the
sporting culture's dirty little secret. "I'm no longer surprised
when I read that this or that pillar of the coaching community
has been accused or convicted of multiple counts of child
molestation," says Steven Bisbing, a clinical and forensic
psychologist from Takoma Park, Md., who studies sexual abuse of
children by authority figures. "It's not an isolated problem,
just a few bad apples. This was the prevailing view for a long
time: 'It's isolated. It's one guy. They're rid of him. No more
problem.' That's absurd.... It occurs with enough regularity
across the country, at all levels [of society], that it should
be viewed as a public health problem."
Although child molestation is by no means confined to sports,
the playing field represents an obvious opportunity for sexual
predators. In the U.S. more than 10 million children under the
age of 16 play organized sports, coached or otherwise supervised
by more than a million adults, many of them unscreened male
volunteers--which is to say, men on whom background checks have
never been done. "Youth sports are a ready-made resource pool
for pedophiles, and we better all get our heads out of the sand
before we ruin the games," says Bob Bastarache, a police officer
turned private investigator and the current president of one of
New England's largest AAU clubs, the Bristol Stars, of New
Bedford, Mass. "Parents today are so busy, they're allowing
coaches to take over the after-school hours, and that's the foot
in the door pedophiles need."
The phenomenon touches communities large and small and can
involve coaches both celebrated and obscure. On Aug. 30 Clyde
Turner, the track and field coach at John Muir High in Pasadena,
was given concurrent sentences, one of three years and one of
eight months, following his conviction for molesting and showing
pornographic material to a freshman on his team. Turner, who is
filing an appeal, was well regarded for his work with young
athletes and his record as a coach; his teams won four state
championships in the 1990s.
Another coach widely respected in his community was John (Jay)
Davidson of Beverly, Mass. Davidson was a coach and an
organizer--former president of the local Babe Ruth League,
founder of the highly successful New England Mariners youth
baseball club and an instructor who participated in baseball
camps throughout the country. On Oct. 9, 1998, four days after
being charged with sexually assaulting two of his players during
overnight stays at his house, Davidson, a 41-year-old bachelor,
sent off a letter to parents of his players proclaiming his
innocence while keening in despair: "No money, no baseball, no
friends, never again working with kids." He then sliced open his
arms with a knife, called 911 to report his suicide attempt and
died before help could arrive, surrounded by photos of boys he
The sexual exploitation of children is such a volatile subject
that even noncriminal allegations can lead to complaints against
a coach, especially if parents discover he has a molestation
conviction on his record, regardless of whether it was decades
ago. One of the Boston area's most successful youth basketball
coaches, Jim Tavares, was forced out of the AAU last year under
such circumstances. Tavares, for 20 years the coach of the New
Bedford Buddies basketball program for kids ages 12 to 17, which
has developed dozens of Division I college scholarship players,
resigned his AAU membership under pressure in March 1998 after
three sets of parents, each with a son on the 13-and-under team
coached by Tavares, complained to the AAU about him. According
to the parents, the 56-year-old Tavares took whirlpool baths in
the nude with their sons--allegedly telling the boys that
despite their reluctance, they had to take off their swimsuits
before entering the hot tub--and watched them as they took
One of the parents who complained had learned that Tavares had
been convicted in 1974 in New Bedford of "unnatural acts with a
child under 16" following an encounter in a swimming pool with a
boy who played on a youth football team Tavares had coached.
Tavares received a two-year suspended sentence. In an interview
with SI, Tavares expressed surprise that the boy in that case
had filed the complaint, revealing that for six months before
the incident he and the boy had been in a relationship that
included physical contact.
Despite this and another criminal conviction--in 1968 in New
Bedford for being "a lewd person in speech and
behavior"--Tavares established himself as a prominent youth
basketball coach. In fact, he is still coaching, with the
support of parents who are aware of his past record, though Nike
no longer sponsors the Buddies and the club is no longer
sanctioned by the AAU. Asked if someone with his criminal record
should be allowed to coach children, Tavares took offense that
anyone would even raise the question. He said he felt there was
nothing inappropriate about his taking nude whirlpool baths with
his players and denied asking them to take their suits off or
watching them take showers. He also pointed out that the police
hadn't charged him with any crimes.
Tavares, who lives with his mother, speaks with despair about
the parents' complaints and the airing of his criminal record.
He has filed a suit in Massachusetts Superior Court for
defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and
invasion of privacy against one of the parents who complained.
"I'm very, very depressed," he says. "I go to bed hoping I die,
and I wake up hoping I die. This has probably been worse than
when I was arrested for the actual thing [in 1974]. I lost my
whole life [last year]."
Allegations of child molestation can reverberate through
communities, wreaking a kind of psychic devastation. In Las
Vegas, former Little League coach Garen Pearson faces trial on
19 counts of sexual assault with a child under 14, 14 counts of
lewdness with a child under 14, four counts of sexual assault
with a child under 16 and two counts of open and gross lewdness.
Pearson, a 40-year-old landscaper, who is pleading not guilty,
according to his lawyer, is accused of molesting five boys ages
9 to 15, four of whom he coached, between 1994 and '99. Police
say that the case began after a 10-year-old boy who played for
Pearson broke down in tears in his parents' bedroom and told
them that Pearson--who had been invited to attend the boy's
birthday party several days later--had molested him numerous
times. According to their parents, some of the boys Pearson
allegedly molested remain traumatized. One mother told SI that
her 10-year-old son, one of the purported victims, became so
fearful of being in any of the rooms in which Pearson had
allegedly molested him that she and the boy had to move out of
their apartment. "The only two places he would go were my
bedroom and the kitchen," she says. "He wouldn't go in the
living room. He wouldn't go in his room. I couldn't see raising
my son in a place where he was petrified."
Parents of Pearson's purported victims offered SI several
reasons why he got away with his alleged molesting for so long.
One was that he was so personable. Another was that, at least
for a while, he had a girlfriend. (Police say that he never had
sex with her.) Perhaps the most commonly cited reason was that
he was such a gifted coach. He took a losing team and turned it
into a winning one. "We were blinded by the winning and the fun
we were having," says "David White,"* the father of a boy
Pearson allegedly molested.
At practices Pearson kept the atmosphere upbeat and worked
patiently with his players to teach them proper technique. "We
might work a whole practice on rundowns," says a parent. "Kids
loved that. If somebody wasn't using two hands to make a catch,
he'd have him not open his mitt and catch the ball with the
outside of the mitt, forcing the kid to use his other hand. They
were excellent drills--and they'd work."
Parents acknowledge that they were so enraptured by Pearson that
they ignored a possible warning sign: He spent inordinate
amounts of time with the boys off the field, taking them to see
movies, to the golf course and on desert outings. On some of the
desert visits, police allege, Pearson took along two boys and
played a lubricious game with them. Everyone would flip a
quarter simultaneously, after which, depending on how the coins
landed, the players would either have to touch Pearson's
genitals or let him touch theirs.
The boys' parents are now left to wonder why they found nothing
suspicious in Pearson's deep involvement with their kids. "Is
this a normal situation?" White asks. "A 40-year-old guy who's
living with his mom, helping coach little boys, who doesn't have
a kid on that team? Is that normal?"
Of course, not all such coaches should be seen as pedophiles.
Nor are single men the only pedophiles. On June 18, in an
Illinois courtroom filled with the parents and relatives of
victims, a Cook County judge sentenced Michael Hughes, 33, to 27
years in prison after Hughes pleaded guilty to molesting eight
boys, ages 12 to 14, most of them members of his youth football
team in the Chicago suburb of Streamwood. Hughes sexually abused
most of the boys downstairs during sleepovers at his Hanover
Park house, while his wife and two young daughters were in bed
"The biggest mistake people can make is to think that it just
doesn't happen here, that we're safe," says FBI special agent
Roger Young, an expert on crimes against children, who worked on
the Pearson case. "The size of the town doesn't matter--sexual
exploitation of children occurs everywhere."
Watson and Hughes fit the broad profile of the child molester
most often found in youth sports. Though Hughes was married,
most such molesters are not. The majority are white males who
have average to high IQs and extremely good verbal and
interpersonal skills. The majority also claim they were molested
as children (though only a small percentage of victims become
molesters). While in youth sports leagues the crime most often
involves men molesting boys, experts don't view molestation as a
homosexual phenomenon; in other settings, such as the home, men
molest girls far more often than boys. Nor is pedophilia
curable. Like alcoholics, however, molesters can be treated
(generally with drugs that diminish their libido), and like all
addicts, they are cautioned to stay away from that to which they
are addicted--in this case, children.
Kenneth Lanning, an FBI supervisory agent who has written
extensively about child molesters, divides them into two groups.
The so-called situational child molester isn't a true pedophile
because he doesn't prefer having sex with children; rather, he
turns to them for any number of reasons--out of boredom or
curiosity, in response to a precipitating stress or simply
because he is sexually or morally indiscriminate. It's the
so-called preferential child molester who's the genuine
pedophile, who prefers to have sex with children and seeks them
out as partners.
In this second group, there's the "introverted" type, who lacks
the interpersonal skills necessary to court a child, so he
forcibly molests very young children, or makes obscene phone
calls, or exposes himself to kids, or wanders through cyberspace
chat rooms talking to children and fellow pedophiles. There's
also a "seductor" type, and this is the kind of pedophile most
likely to seek work as a coach of children--the likable, chatty,
often witty guy who finds in sports an accessible pool of
children to prey on. He uses his position as a coach to win over
the kids' parents and, through patience and stealth, breaks down
the children's inhibitions until he's able to seduce and molest
them. Most such pedophiles have an age preference, but what
really sets them apart from situational and introverted
offenders is the often staggering number of boys they seduce.
These sex offenders "will molest more children than any other
type," says Young, "anywhere from 12 in a lifetime up to 500 or
600." (Studies have found that the average preferential molester
victimizes about 120 children before he is caught.)
Seductors aren't violent; they don't force their victims to have
sex. Stemming from ancient Greek, the word pedophile literally
means "lover of children," and in fact the seductor sees himself
as a kind of Don Juan of deviance. He's the pied piper of
molesters. Children often adore him. Parents see him as just the
male role model their boys need and invite him to Thanksgiving
dinner. All the while, of course, the pedophile is picking out
his targets--the boy he senses needs attention, the boy who
reminds him of himself when he was young. He believes he truly
does love the boys in a way that raises him above other abusers.
Lanning says that these seducers see themselves as a breed of
pedophile apart. "They get along so well with kids," Lanning
says. "They like to talk like this: 'Society confuses us,' they
say. 'They mix us up with those guys who abduct and use force
and brutalize children. We are child lovers! I've had sex with a
hundred children, but I've always asked.'"
While society has no trouble envisioning the violent molester
and the child who is forced to submit to a sexual predator, many
people are baffled by how adult seducers are able to get young
athletes to go along with them voluntarily. "These men seduce
children, in this case boys, in exactly the same way that men
and women have been seducing each other since the dawn of
mankind," Lanning says. In other words, they flirt with them,
laugh at their jokes and shower them with attention, with gifts,
with affection. "They size up their weaknesses, their
vulnerabilities, their needs," Lanning says. "They will target
the kids who are more vulnerable, the kids who are not having
their needs met elsewhere. Kids from broken homes or whose
fathers travel a lot. A lot of these guys will specialize as
coaches on inner-city teams or as coaches of troubled youth."
These extended courtships, which are calculated to break down
the child's inhibitions, might take weeks or even months, but
the determined pedophile coach knows exactly what he's doing and
how to take advantage of his position of authority and trust.
Lanning believes there's no easier target for seduction than an
adolescent boy. The youngster is not only at a stage of sexual
exploration, an innocent in search of his sexual identity, but
he's also often in rebellion against his parents, bent on taking
risks. And all of this comes at a time when his hormones are in
"The only difference between seducing an adolescent boy and
seducing a woman is that it's about a thousand times easier to
seduce the boy," says Lanning. "Why? The ease of sexual arousal.
What does it take to give a 14-year-old boy an erection? A ride
on a school bus and two potholes. You are talking about a boy
who can be aroused by almost anything." Add to this already
volatile mix the use of alcohol, marijuana and video
pornography, all used by some molesters to further erode
inhibitions, and the seduction can occur with surprising ease.
Alcohol, pot and porn all played a part in Hughes's scenarios
for seduction. First Hughes captured the hearts, minds and trust
of the parents. One single mother invited him to holiday dinners
and her children's birthday parties. "He was very sensitive,"
she says. "He'd give you the shirt off his back. I never knew
anything was going on." Another couple, wanting to go out to
celebrate their wedding anniversary, had Hughes baby-sit their
13-year-old football-player son at Hughes's house. While the
parents were out, Hughes molested their boy. "I feel real
betrayed," says the mother. Hughes was described by more than
one parent as a "great guy" who provoked no strong suspicions
over the large amounts of time he was spending with the boys.
In 1984 Hughes had been convicted on two counts of taking
"indecent liberties" with a child in a community near Streamwood
and was sentenced to four years probation. This didn't come to
light during the years he coached in Streamwood because no one
looked into his past. Hughes resigned in late 1996 after
Streamwood Park District officials decided to do criminal
background checks on all of their volunteer coaches; Hughes
objected strenuously to the checks. When he quit, he told
parents he had "scheduling conflicts" at work. The parents were
still ignorant of his past, and Hughes continued to come around
and hang with the boys at some practices and games. "He was
still very involved talking to the kids," says the father of the
victim for whom Hughes had babysat.
Hughes seemed an ideal companion for the boys. "He was a nice,
nice man," the mother of one victim says. "The kids idolized him.
A real fun-loving guy. He was just a big kid at heart. The boys
liked him so much. They'd have done anything for him."
Through one victim after another, Hughes's modus operandi was
remarkably similar from the summer of 1996 through May '97, when
he was having the sleepovers, usually for one child at a time.
"We thought he was having a bunch of boys over," one parent
said. Typically, Hughes would take the boy for a ride in his
car, give him Mountain Dew laced with Seagram's Seven--sometimes
Hughes would also offer the kid marijuana--and then drive him to
Hughes's place, where he would pop a pornographic flick into the
VCR. While the movie was showing, he would massage the boy's
shoulders and eventually molest him.
That Hughes could follow this routine with a succession of boys
before he was caught isn't surprising. "In these cases the kids
almost never tell," says Lanning, who lectures on child sexual
abuse to police investigators. "I've been talking about this
dynamic for a long time. It's not uncommon, when I finish a
class, that a police officer will come up and say that something
like that happened to him when he was a boy: 'I've never told
anybody about this.' I say, 'Why are you telling me?' He says,
'You described exactly what happened to me. So I knew you'd
There are numerous reasons why children don't report sexual
exploitation. Adolescent boys fear being teased about having had
sex with a man. "The stigma of homosexuality--probably much the
worst thing that can happen to a boy," Lanning says. They also
fear that their parents might, in Lanning's words, "go
ballistic," and they're embarrassed that they have been
victimized and duped. "I didn't want people finding out what was
happening," one of Hughes's victims says. "I was flabbergasted
when he did it to me. I didn't know what to say. I was high on
pot and drunk, and I thought, I better go along. He was my
coach! I was embarrassed about it. I'm still embarrassed about
Societal ignorance about the nature of pedophilia is another
thing that keeps victims from coming forward. "These kids get to
the point where they are willing to trade sex for attention,
affection, kindness, gifts or money," says Lanning. "People say,
'Who'd do that?' The answer, as best I can figure out, is just
about everybody." Much easier to understand, of course, is the
child who claims he didn't tell because the abuser threatened
his life. "That's what we want to believe," Lanning says. "The
guy had a giant machete hidden in his closet, and he told me he
would cut off my genitals and murder my dog if I told. We'd all
be ecstatic over that. That's what we want to believe: Fear and
threats of violence. When the boy tells something more probable,
like trading sex for kindness and attention, society doesn't
understand that.... They don't tell because, correctly, they
recognize that society doesn't understand what happened to them,
doesn't understand the seduction process."
So reluctant are victims to come forward and so persistent are
pedophiles that Hughes and Watson would surely still be
molesting children today had fate not intervened. In the spring
of 1997, around the time that Hughes, who worked as a salesman
for a video company, abused three boys at once in his office--he
molested the boys one at a time while the other two watched--the
mother of another victim was folding her son's underwear and
putting it in a drawer when she saw, hidden among the clothes, a
letter written by her son to his girlfriend. All she noticed at
first was the word drunk, written in large letters. Curious, she
read the letter. It told how Hughes had gotten the boy drunk and
then "sexually harassed" him. After showing the letter to
another football mother, she confronted her son and told him
they needed to report Hughes to the police. The boy got angry.
"Just leave it alone!" he told her.
"He was only 13, and he was scared and embarrassed," the mother
says. "He thought he was the only one involved." She reported
Hughes to authorities. Soon, under police questioning, other
boys told similar tales, and Hughes was called in for
questioning. He confessed. Hughes has been in jail ever since.
He was originally accused of molesting nine boys, but that was
reduced to eight when the boy whose letter to his girlfriend had
launched the investigation died in a minibike accident.
In Watson's case, Michael Egelhoff, who had been molested by him
as an 11-year-old Little Leaguer in Riverside in 1975, was so
haunted by that abuse that he asked a private detective to see
if Watson was still coaching children. The incident had occurred
23 years before, and Egelhoff was now living in Portland, but
his own two children were becoming increasingly active in
sports, and the thought of them playing and the memory of what
happened to him pushed Egelhoff to find his old seducer. "It
just really bugged me," says Egelhoff. "This guy had a
mysterious way of brainwashing people, and I just kind of
clammed up about it for many years. Something stuck in my brain,
and it just kept nagging at me.... Something kept telling me
that this guy didn't quit."
The detective called Egelhoff back two weeks later. "I'm really
happy you had me find the guy," the investigator said. "He's back
in Little League."
When word got around San Bernardino that Watson might have a
history as a child molester, two members of the East Base Line
Little League board, Tom and Dee Simanek, went to the San
Bernardino County Sheriff's Department and called up Watson's
name on the Megan's Law CD-ROM sex-offender registry. There he
was, complete with his criminal record and even his picture,
identified as a high-risk sex offender. "I was hysterical," Dee
Simanek says. "This man was in my house, he stayed in my house,
and I just couldn't deal with it."
By the time the Simaneks (whose sons were not among those
molested by Watson) made their discovery, Watson was a practiced
liar and manipulator. After three years at Patton State
Hospital, to which a California Superior Court judge had
committed him for a maximum of seven years as a mentally
disordered sex offender, Watson handwrote a letter in January
1984 seeking an early release: "My crimes (the only ones I ever
had are child molest) are not anything to be proud of nor is my
history of these crimes something to ignore. I have
though...come to grips with many factors and know that my child
molesting is something that has been replaced with those normal
healthy sexual thoughts that I was afraid to acknowledge for so
long.... Given a chance to return to the community, I know I can
and will make it."
Watson was out of Patton State Hospital a month later and
umpiring and coaching Little League inside a year. He was
returned to Patton in June 1985 when a mental health official
found that he had concealed his involvement in youth baseball
during court-ordered outpatient counseling. He was free 16
months later. Over the next three years Watson remained under
the supervision of health authorities but frequently missed
counseling sessions. Nevertheless he was released from
outpatient therapy in '90; that was the year he became a growing
presence on the East Base Line Little League field. That was the
year, too, that he began sexually molesting the first of his
"One of the first things he did was make friends with my
parents," says "Mitch," now 18, one of the boys Watson molested
for years. "He would start talking to my parents before he even
really talked to me."
Watson, who had various jobs, including one as a
plumbing-supplies salesman, was single and lived here and there,
at times in parents' garages. He spent much of his time around
the boys on his team. He played Monopoly and Scrabble and cards
with them and their families. He bought one boy an expensive NFL
team jacket and Nike shoes. He took some of his players bowling
and to the movies. "He was like family," says Mitch's father.
"He went on vacations with people, he went on holidays, he was
invited over on Christmas morning. He was part of the Base Line
"He learned your movements," says Dee Simanek. "He learned what
your likes and dislikes were. I took him to the movies for his
birthday--to see Star Trek. He would really get into it. He knew
I was an Elvis fan, so he bought me all this Elvis stuff. He
knew how to infiltrate your family."
Watson smiles faintly when the word infiltrate is repeated to
him. "I definitely did that," he says. "My advantage is I have a
good personality. People are drawn to me. They want me to shake
their hand in public, stand in their pictures. I knew how to be
popular in that Little League environment. It gave me a sense of
power, but more a sense of belonging, which is something I lacked
in my life. When I wasn't around Little League, I was lost. It
wasn't just the boys. It was the whole Little League family that
I think fell in love with me. But I did a lot of this just for
the availability of kids."
Unlike Hughes, Watson didn't use alcohol or pornography to
soften his victims. "I felt if I had to use something artificial
to get the affection and the gratification I was seeking, it
wasn't worth it," he says. "I picked kids who would have been
like me at that age--outgoing, active in sports, respectful,
someone I could joke around with. It wasn't just about sex. I
would be with them for six hours and maybe only 15 minutes of it
would be sexual."
Lanning says coach sex offenders often cop this plea. "It is
more than sex," he says. "They're out in the sports fields with
them, playing ball with them and laughing and joking with them.
But what you have to understand is this: If it weren't for the
15 minutes of sex, there wouldn't be the six hours of being
together. At some point there has to be sex."
For two years Watson molested Mitch repeatedly. He had not only
been his attentive coach--"My best coach ever," Mitch says--but
also, in the boy's words, "one of my best friends. He would talk
about sex a lot. And to me it just seemed like I was talking to
a friend. He kind of inched his way in there to where I felt
comfortable talking to him. I trusted him." Watson manipulated
Mitch into having sex with him by telling him that one of
Mitch's older friends had allowed Watson similar liberties. "It
helped make me think it was O.K.," says Mitch.
The boy was clearly trading sex for kindness and attention, and
the experience was killing him inside. "I was confused," he
says. "I knew I didn't like it. I cried and felt angry about it
all the time, but I didn't know what to do to stop it. I knew
that if I just stopped going places with him, my parents would
say, 'What's up with Norm?' and then I'd have to tell them. I
also knew that as long as it was happening to me, it wasn't
happening to anybody else. I thought that I could change him,
that I could make him stop doing it and still not lose anything
from the relationship."
The seductor follows four distinct steps, according to Lanning:
"He recruits, he seduces, he molests and then he breaks it off
and moves on." Given his preference for boys between 11 and 14,
Watson had always told Mitch that one day their relationship
would have to end. Mitch recalls, "He told me, 'Soon you're
going to get older and you're going to do your own thing.' I
didn't really understand what he meant."
Mitch learned soon enough. When he turned 14, he says, Watson
started molesting one of Mitch's younger friends, going back and
forth between him and Mitch. "When I turned 15, there wasn't
much talking to me anymore," Mitch says. "It was all about him
and all my [younger] friends.... Honestly, I think I felt kind
of betrayed but relieved at the same time that it was finally
over." What Mitch didn't know was that Watson had started
molesting Mitch's younger brother, "Wayne," then 13. "Norm
promised me it would never happen to [Wayne]," Mitch says.
About a year after Watson's jilting of Mitch, the Simaneks found
Watson on the sex-offender registry. Watson's world had begun to
cave in around him, but not before he appeared to be saved by
his hold on other parents. So strong was Watson's grip on the
Little League community that when the Simaneks approached
incoming board president Cassandra Bassett with the news of
Watson's history, Watson was able to convince Bassett and the
other members that they had nothing to fear in allowing him to
continue to coach. "I know I've changed," he lied. "I'm a good
person. I've forgiven myself. That's not me anymore." The board
ousted the Simaneks and one member even asked Watson if he
needed a lawyer.
"Wouldn't you lie?" Watson asks. "I didn't want to lose what I
had. I gave them what should have been an obvious lie--the old
'That's not me anymore.' I gave them the runaround, and they
wanted to believe me."
Never is the seductor more vulnerable to being caught than when
he breaks off a relationship with a victim. "Now the kid comes
to the realization that the guy used him," says Lanning. Mitch,
feeling betrayed--doubly so when he learned of the molesting of
his younger brother--told his girlfriend and his parents what
Watson had been doing to him all those months and turned him in
to police. Sitting in the office of the detective assigned to
the case, Mike DiMatteo of the San Bernardino sheriff's
department, Mitch told DiMatteo the names of all those he
suspected Watson of molesting. DiMatteo then confronted Watson,
Mitch admits he was torn about whether to break his long
silence. "To me [Watson] had been such a friend that it was kind
of like I was betraying him," he says. "Not that I wanted to
hurt him, but that I didn't want it to happen to other people.
Recently I've had a lot of anger, but I don't know. It's hard to
Bassett wasn't the first person fooled by a master seductor, but
she still agonizes over her role in defending Watson when the
Simaneks divulged his history. When Watson was arrested,
Bassett, whose son was not among those Watson molested, was
stunned. "I stayed nauseous for a long time, and it still makes
me sick to my stomach," she says. "How could that go on right in
your face and you not see it? You could tell yourself a hundred
times how easy it is, but it doesn't matter. You still feel
stupid. You're supposed to be smarter than your children. You're
supposed to see these things."
The family of Mitch and Wayne is still lost in grief. The
father, who is disabled, thought Watson was a godsend, playing
ball with Mitch and Wayne and doing what the dad could not do
for his sons. "I had no idea he was using my weakness to get
into our lives, to get with our boys," he says. "It is almost
unbearable to think of. He destroyed our family."
Through all the therapy he has undergone, for all the boys he
has abused, Watson claims he never realized the pain he was
causing until Mitch told him about it. Watson closes his eyes
and can't speak as he hears the boy's words: "I can't even ride
in the van with my dad without being nervous, Norm. I'm scared
Watson left a swath of human ruin in his wake, just as emotional
wreckage lies everywhere child molesters have been. There's the
frightened girl Watson molested, who for years would wake up
screaming in the night and could not sleep in her own bed. There
are the kids from Streamwood who stayed out of school, shying
from the taunts of "faggot" by their peers. There are all those
parents who berate themselves daily for what their sons went
through. "I feel like I failed as a father," the parent of one
Streamwood victim says.
When Hughes was pleading for mercy at his sentencing hearing, he
said, "I have sinned. I have caused a great deal of pain to many
people, and for that I am truly sorry. None here can know the
amount of remorse I feel. None here can know the sorrow and the
guilt that I carry."
Oh, yes, they can--from their own experience, from the
heartbreak his crimes have caused them. They all, the victims
and their families, can feel their own remorse, sorrow and
guilt. And forever will.
*The names of minors and some parents have been changed.
COLOR PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY AMY GUIP COVER SPECIAL REPORT WHO'S COACHING YOUR KID? The frightening truth about child molestation in youth sports
B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY THE ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS [See caption above]
B/W PHOTO: SAN BERNARDINO SHERIFF'S OFFICE [See caption above]
B/W PHOTO: SHREVEPORT TIMES [See caption above]
B/W PHOTO: PASADENA STAR-NEWS [See caption above]
B/W PHOTO: ALLEGHENY COUNTY POLICE [See caption above]
B/W PHOTO: PHOENIX SHERIFF'S OFFICE [See caption above]
B/W PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY AMY GUIP Young accuser This Las Vegas Little Leaguer told his mom (above) and dad that Coach Pearson had repeatedly molested him.
B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY TODD BIGELOW/AURORA [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO A fixture Watson (center, in black) coached for years not far from a hospital where he'd been incarcerated as a molester.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY TODD BIGELOW/AURORA Still haunted Mitch was visibly shaken by a visit to the dugout where he was molested.
COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY The expert Lanning says molesters target kids who "are not having their needs met elsewhere."
B/W PHOTO The Simaneks printed fliers telling other parents where they could look up Watson's record as a sex offender.
COLOR PHOTO: MELCHIOR DIGIACOMO Hot seat The beleaguered Tavares still coaches, but his club has lost its AAU affiliation.
COLOR PHOTO: RICH FRISHMAN The pursuer Egelhoff was worried that other children, including his, might be victimized.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY TODD BIGELOW/AURORA Dogged The Simaneks' opposition to Watson prompted the Little League board to expel them.
PROTECTING YOUR CHILD
It would be easy, while reading about the likes of Norman Watson
and Michael Hughes, to forget that the overwhelming majority of
coaches on America's youth sports fields are there for all the
right reasons. These coaches should be thanked, not subjected to
a witch hunt. Nevertheless, a number of coaches have been
convicted of child molestation, and the National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children, the FBI and the mothers and
fathers of some victims offer the following tips to help parents
protect their children:
DO A BACKGROUND CHECK
Ask your league (or school) whether it does criminal-history or
any other types of background checks on coaches. If it doesn't,
ask why not. Many states and cities have policies allowing
volunteer organizations that serve children to have criminal
checks run for free by police. (If your state or city has no
such policy, a criminal check by police should cost no more than
$40 per coach.) Some states make their registry of sex offenders
available on the Internet. Checks shouldn't be limited to
criminal records, however. If the coach has coached in other
leagues, call those leagues to make sure he wasn't accused of
any sexual improprieties.
DON'T TURN YOUR CHILD'S COACH INTO A BABYSITTER
Don't drop your child off at games and practices and leave.
Studies show that men predisposed to molest children often prey
first on those regularly left unattended by parents. By being
present, you let the coach know you are actively involved in
your child's life.
DON'T FALL FOR FLATTERY
Be wary of any coach who says he's the one person who can help
your oh-so-gifted child develop into a star or who spends an
unusually large amount of time with the child "because he's such
a wonderful kid." The coach may be trying to win your trust and
groom your child for seduction.
TALK TO YOUR CHILD AND THEN LISTEN
Describe for your son or daughter what you consider
inappropriate behavior by a coach (improper touching of his
players, showing them pornographic material and so on). Make
sure your child knows that if a coach says, "You can't tell your
mom or dad" about something the coach is doing, the first thing
the child should do is tell Mom or Dad. Assure your child that
he or she will never get in trouble with you for telling the
truth. If your child's interest in his sport or team suddenly
diminishes for no apparent reason, ask why.
BEWARE OF COACHES BEARING GIFTS
"If it looks too good to be true, it probably is," Watson said
from prison when asked whether he had any words of caution for
parents. Watson took his player-victims to the mall and bought
them games, clothes and athletic equipment. "All that should
have been a sign," the FBI's Roger Young says. "That's not
normal behavior for a nonparent."
Some coaches don't want parents to know where the team will be
staying on a road trip. These coaches often say that the
presence of parents hinders team development. Bad sign. Demand
to know. Also, ask what the arrangements are for showering after
games and practices. There's generally no reason for children to
be nude in the presence of the coach and no reason for the coach
to be naked in the presence of a child.
The average "preferential" molester, the kind most common in
youth sports, victimizes about 120 children before he is caught.
"I was confused," says Mitch. "I knew I didn't like it. I cried
and felt angry about it, but I didn't know what to do to stop
"These men seduce boys the same way men and women have seduced
each other since the dawn of mankind," says Lanning.
Tavares, who's not currently accused of molestation, is suing a
parent for spreading word of his 1974 conviction for that
Egelhoff hired a detective to find out if Watson--who had
molested him 23 years earlier--was still coaching.
Parents are fooled into seeing the seducer as just the role
model their boys need. They even invite him to Thanksgiving