A longtime soccer coach was in jail Wednesday, accused of having inappropriate sexual contact with a child more than two decades ago when the coach worked at Catawba College.
Ralph William Wager, 69, of Charlotte, is charged with felony first-degree child sex offense, crimes against nature and taking indecent liberties with a child. He was jailed under $500,000 bond.
Wager also has been suspended indefinitely from participating in activities with the N.C. Youth Soccer Association, which has about 100 member associations across the state.
Wager was charged earlier this week after an investigation that began in May, according to the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office. The alleged incidents took place between 1987 and 1989 when Wager was soccer coach at Catawba College, officials said.
The Salisbury Post reported that the alleged victim came forward after doing an Internet search and seeing that Wager was still working with children.
The alleged victim, who was younger than 10 at the time of the reported incidents, had been participating in a sports program at the college, said sheriff’s Capt. John Sifford. Investigators are trying to determine whether any of the alleged acts happened on the campus, Sifford said.
On Wednesday, college officials said they planned to fully cooperate with the criminal investigation. Catawba officials learned of the allegations and Wager’s arrest earlier in the day, said college spokeswoman Tonia Black-Gold.
Wager began working at the Salisbury college in 1983 and also was a physical education teacher. He resigned after seven seasons as coach, citing health and personal reasons, the Observer reported then.
Wager was credited for turning around Catawba’s soccer program. His teams won five conference championships. He was inducted in the college’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.
The Rowan sheriff’s office said Wager was a coach with a Charlotte-based soccer association at the time of his arrest.
Wager had worked most recently as a director and coach with the Steele Creek Soccer Club. His name and biography had appeared on the site early Wednesday, but were later removed.
Matt Parker, soccer commissioner for the club, said officials were just learning of the allegations against Wager. But the coach came up clean on a background check performed in May on coaches and other officials by the state youth soccer association.
Records show Wager has no prior criminal record other than traffic violations.
Some who knew Wager said they're surprised by the allegations.
Adam Combs, who first met the coach when he attended local soccer camps as a child, said he always found Wager to be professional and praised his technical skills and teaching. Combs said he and others who knew Wager had "nothing but the best things to say about him."
"I felt like he always cared about people not just on a soccer level but also on a personal level and I never really felt uncomfortable with him," said Combs, who played semi-professional soccer in college and now runs a small gym in the state.
Rowan authorities say their investigation continues. They have been assisted by the State Bureau of Investigation and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police.
Anyone with information is asked to call Rowan Sheriff’s Lt. Chad Moose or Detective Sara Benfield at 704-216-8739. Staff researcher Maria David contributed.