In a two-hour police interview in 2012, a former Catawba College soccer coach told detectives he once had a special bond with a 9-year-old that may have gone “too far.”
“That could have been my mistake, too,” said Ralph Wager, the coach. “He (the boy) did not express that at the time.”
The interview touched on Wager’s days as a star soccer coach, his belief in healing by touching pressure points, and the time in the late 1980s he spent bonding and mentoring the young boy. After watching the taped interview with two Rowan County sheriff’s detectives on Monday, Superior Court Judge Erwin Spainhour said it can be used as evidence in this week’s trial.
Wager, now 72, is charged with three counts of crime against nature, three of first-degree sexual offense and six of taking indecent liberties with a child. Wager is a long-time youth soccer coach in Charlotte.
On Monday, Spainhour declined a defense motion to ban the video. Wager’s attorney argued that his client did not waive his rights when he declined to answer certain questions without an attorney present.
“No clear and unequivocal request for an attorney was made,” Spainhour said.
Wager described the relationship with a 9-year-old swimmer he met at the college’s pool. At different times, he described it as intimate, affectionate, and a “special kinship.” He slept in the boy’s bed, rubbed his stomach, and massaged his legs, Wager said. The boy, now an adult, contacted detectives in 2012 and confronted Wager.
“He felt I had done things that were sexually aggressive,” Wager told the detectives. “I think he mistook my affection.”
When detectives asked about specific accusations, Wager declined to comment.
Earlier Monday, Spainhour combined the cases of two men who have accused Wager of abuse. One case involved the 9-year-old swimmer in 1987 and 1989. He is also accused of abusing a 13-year-old soccer player in 1990.
Jury selection is expected to begin Tuesday. The two victims will testify, as will three men who lived in New York when Wager worked there.
Wager was head coach at Catawba from 1983 to 1990. In 2008, Wager was inducted into the school’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Allegations of abuse date back to 1987, when the mother of the first accuser complained to college officials about Wager.
Catawba College allowed Wager to continue coaching and hosting summer camps but banned him from the pool area while the Rowan Aquatic Club practiced, court documents show.
In 1990, the mother of the second accuser contacted college officials. She said her son was abused three times at Wager’s on-campus apartment, court documents show.
But it wasn’t until 2012 when the first accuser contacted the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office. The man, now in his 30s, confronted Wager and recorded what sounded like an apology from the former coach.
He was arrested that year.
In all, at least four men have accused Wager of abusing them, with charges filed in two cases.
Reporter Elizabeth Leland contributed.