Out of bounds

In the fiercely competitive world of youth soccer, no one has more power and influence over children than the coaches. Several weeks ago, a young female soccer player from North Dallas accused a popular coach of two prestigious local soccer clubs and Jesuit College Preparatory School of abusing that power.

On March 12, a Dallas County grand jury indicted 27-year-old Anthony Scott Fernandes of sexually assaulting a girl he first met five years ago when he coached her soccer team and gave her private soccer-skills instruction. Sexual assault of a child is a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in a state penitentiary and an optional fine of up to $10,000. The defendant in such a case is also eligible for probation, according to Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Keith Anderson, who is prosecuting the case.

The girl, whose identity is being kept confidential by authorities, alleged in an affidavit that Fernandes first started pressuring her to have sex with him when she was 14. She first rejected his advances, but later, when she was 15, relented. In the affidavit, the girl said that she "fell under the suspect's influence," and they had sex three or four times between June 1993 and June 1994. The girl is now 18.

Neither Fernandes nor his lawyer, Jim Burnham, returned repeated phone calls for this story. A hearing is set for May 22. Fernandes had not as of press time entered a plea.

Jesuit suspended Fernandes, a part-time employee who has been an assistant soccer coach there for the past five years, until the outcome of the case, says Charlie DeLong, head of the school's soccer program. Chuck Mozinga, general manager of the North Texas State Soccer Association would neither confirm nor deny that it has suspended Fernandes from coaching for the Comets and Defeaters soccer clubs and for the state's Olympic Development program. But United States Youth Soccer rules stipulate that any person involved in youth soccer who is facing a trial for a crime of moral turpitude shall be suspended until the outcome of the litigation, according to USYS spokesman Jim Cosgrove.

Reports of Fernandes' indictment and arrest--he was released on $3,000 bail--have shocked and saddened members of the soccer community of North Texas, one of the most successful areas for youth soccer in the country. "I think he is being hung up by his heels," says one parent, who asked not to be identified. "I don't believe it. The truth will come out and I hope he's vindicated. He's a good friend and I love what he's done for my kids."

"I hope it is not a witch hunt," says a director of coaching for the Inter soccer club. "But if he did, and it's against the law, he has to suffer the consequences. Clubs need to be careful. A young single guy coaching young girls is just asking for trouble. It's so sad. It affects the quality of coaching when you have to be that careful."

Originally from California, Scott Fernandes came to Dallas to play soccer at Southern Methodist University. He played sweeper for the school team for three years, then quit when a young rookie usurped his position on the team and he felt he wasn't getting enough playing time, recalls the team's coach, Schellas Hyndman.

"He didn't live up to his own desires as a player," says Hyndman. "But he was a great kid and worked hard. He was a neat kid to be around."

In 1991, when Fernandes was 22, he began helping coach a team of 13-year-old girls for the Defeaters soccer club. It was then he met the young girl who would later accuse him of sexual assault. Once a week, the girl's parents paid Fernandes to give her private instruction, a common practice for children who excel at the sport and participate in what's known as competitive or select soccer, where players must try out for teams coached by paid professionals. The Observer examined the world of select youth soccer in a February 1, 1996, article, "Games grownups play."

Around November 1992, Fernandes "began to approach the complainant to participate in a relationship that was more than coach and player and more than friends," according to the girl's affidavit, which was written on March 11 of this year.

"The complainant pushed him away at the time. But the suspect kept after her and eventually enticed [sic] and forced himself on her," the girl alleges. "The suspect began to pressure the complainant to have sex with him...The suspect would pick the complainant up and take her to his house. At this time the suspect would have sexual intercourse with the complainant...[T]hey had sexual intercourse after that three or four more times...until the spring of 1994.

"The complainant stated that she fell under the suspect's influence and basically [did] whatever he wanted after he began to pressure her to have sex," according to the affidavit.

In the state of Texas it is against the law to have sex with a person younger than 17. Sex with a child younger than 14 is considered aggravated sexual assault, thus increasing the penalty, according to Keith Anderson. "Whether it is forcible or not, you can file charges," Anderson says. "The law assumes that someone under the age of 17 is not old enough to make that decision."

Anderson says it is not uncommon for someone, particularly a child, to wait several years before making an allegation of sexual assault. "We tend to forget these are kids and they're confused at this age," says Anderson. "Often they'll go until they're adults before they tell anyone."

Anderson admits some teen-agers are more mature than others. "But if a child is 13, 14, 15, it's common sense. You don't need a lawyer to tell you not to do that. The law is the law, and it doesn't give each kid a test on maturity.

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Ann Zimmerman

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