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Swimming in Sex Abuse

A recent Berkeley criminal case and a new lawsuit suggest that sex abuse by swim coaches is widespread and that officials aren't doing enough to stop it.



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Yet board president Gary Firestone refuted that assertion. He says he never heard such complaints, and that often the real problem was behavioral issues with certain children. "A lot of times the parents might complain about the coaches not getting enough attention, when the kids aren't paying attention and going off and doing their own thing," he said. In addition, Firestone said some parents — including Muchnick — were irked that the team had relocated to Contra Costa College. "Unfortunately, Irv was one of the disgruntled parents who didn't like the idea of leaving the middle-class environment of Berkeley for Contra Costa College," Firestone said.

Firestone also defended Stovall's coaching ability. "You could say a lot about Jesse and a lot of bad things about Jesse, understandably, but one thing he was was a good coach," he said. Firestone, who was also a swimming official, said Stovall was a "typical" good coach who worked with the swimmers to improve their technique. "He seemed to get along with the kids; he got them swimming hard," Firestone said. "The swimming times became much better when he took over. Their times always improved."

Nothing about Stovall's behavior seemed unusual to Firestone until it surfaced that Stovall had mismanaged team funds. Around May of 2009, according to Firestone, the team received a letter from Contra Costa College saying that it hadn't received pool rent for a year and a half and that Bear Swimming owed it $28,000. The board and some parents confronted Stovall, who was in charge of team finances, during a "big blowout" meeting. However, Stovall offered no explanation and sent a letter of resignation the next day. But he kept his position as head coach of a nearby Berkeley team, Strawberry Canyon Aquatic Masters.

Upon investigating the matter further, Firestone said they determined that the problem was that Stovall mismanaged the finances. But there was no indication that he embezzled the funds, and hence no grounds upon which the team could press charges. Firestone later determined that Contra Costa College had never sent a bill asking for pool rent, so Firestone believes Stovall simply believed they were getting a "free pass" and never looked into the matter. However, Stovall did make sure to pay his own salary — which was around $55,000 by the end of his tenure. While Stovall did collect some cash from the team's masters program, Firestone said he had no idea how much. He estimated the amount was "miniscule" — around $500 to $1,000.

But Stovall's offenses turned out to be much worse than mismanaging funds.

A month or so after leaving Bear Swimming, Stovall was arrested on UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza while heading to practice at Strawberry Canyon. Two of his swimmers witnessed the arrest and rumors quickly spread throughout the local swimming community. Muchnick, who's an investigative reporter, obtained the police report and learned about the allegations of statutory rape in Florida and told other parents.

A few weeks after returning to California, Allison told a friend what Stovall had done. The friend then told her therapist, who reported it to police. Allison's parents found out when they read a diary entry in which she wrote about the alleged rape. They then removed Allison from the swim team and went to police, too.

After Stovall's arrest, he refused to talk directly about having sex with Allison, according to police. However, he spoke about it abstractly and appeared to come close to confessing. The police report described Stovall's recorded interview this way: