Shepherd mum on sexual assault charges against women’s coach

Article written by Joyce Barrett

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Shepherd University officials quietly allowed the assistant women’s soccer coach to resign in November 2018 when he faced sexual assault charges from former students, according to stories in the Dallas Morning News and Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Some parents of players on the Shepherd women’s soccer team have been alarmed at the reports, several sources said. Parents and players apparently didn’t know about the sexual assault charges until the stories were published.

Tristan Longnecker resigned in November after a former student from Texas gave a statement to a Shepherd University official after calling the school athletic director to describe the assaults. Shepherd University officials, however, allowed him to resign and gave no explanation of the reasons behind his sudden departure. Longnecker’s picture was recently removed from the Shepherd website, however his email is still listed on the Shepherd website.

According to a statement to Charleston Gazette-Mail reporter Ryan Quinn, University spokeswoman Valerie Owens emailed that the University did not have “sufficient information in November 2018 to share with the players” about the reasons for Longnecker’s departure. The University, however, had an affidavit from the former student, which was given before Owen’s statement denying the University knew about the charges.

The assault charges were revealed in a Sunday, May 19 story, in the Dallas Morning News by investigative reporter Sue Ambrose. Ambrose reported that Laura Anton, now a pediatrician who lives outside Austin, Texas, said she was repeatedly assaulted by Longnecker while he was her coach in the 1980s. The alleged assaults began when Anton was 13, the Dallas Morning News reported. Subsequently, other teammates have made public assault charges against Longnecker.

Anton told the Gazette-Mail that she telephoned Shepherd on Oct. 19, 2018. She also telephoned the Eastern Panhandle Inter-County Soccer Club, which Longnecker also was coaching. Longnecker resigned from Shepherd on Nov. 9, the same day the West Virginia Soccer Association disqualified him from all of its activities, according to the Gazette-Mail.

Owens told the Gazette-Mail that no background checks were done on Longnecker, who worked at Shepherd for three years. Longnecker passed background checks for the West Virginia Soccer Association, according to the Gazette-Mail.

Longnecker could not be reached for comment. Owens did not respond to questions.

Below is the story that appeared May 23 in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Shepherd University, Eastern Panhandle soccer coach accused of sexual abuse

A Shepherd University assistant women’s soccer coach and recruiter resigned after a woman told Shepherd and EPIC, a youth travel team, the coach sexually assaulted her for years when she was a teenager playing on his teams in Texas. He also was banned from coaching the Eastern Panhandle Inter-County Soccer Club and other youth soccer teams.

On Sunday, The Dallas Morning News published an investigative story about Tristan Longnecker’s alleged abuse of Laura Anton and other former soccer players when they were teens. The story told how Anton finally came to speak out, and how she reached out to other women, asking them to come forward.

Anton told the Gazette-Mail she called Shepherd and EPIC on Oct. 19, 2018, about Longnecker, who she said began sexually abusing her when she was 13. EPIC board President Shelley Sanders said EPIC first became aware of Anton’s allegations on Nov. 7.

Longnecker resigned from Shepherd on Nov. 9. On that same day, the West Virginia Soccer Association, of which EPIC is a member, disqualified him from all of its activities, including coaching.

It was not clear Thursday if current or former players for Shepherd or EPIC, or their parents, were notified of the allegations against Longnecker or interviewed regarding whether Longnecker possibly abused anyone in West Virginia. The Gazette-Mail has been unable to contact Longnecker.

Shepherd University Communications Executive Director Valerie Owens wrote in an email that “it appears to us that no background check” was performed on Longnecker, who worked there for three years.

She wrote that the university now conducts background checks on “anyone involved in coaching in any way,” and has now been doing so at least since late 2016.

West Virginia Soccer Association Executive Director Dave Laraba said Longnecker passed background checks for his organization.

Laraba said his organization hasn’t interviewed any current or former players and didn’t notify parents about the allegations against Longnecker until after the Dallas paper’s story came out.

Laraba said his group notified the U.S. Center for SafeSport and that it would be in charge of any investigation. SafeSport says that, aside from law enforcement, it has “exclusive jurisdiction” over sexual misconduct investigations for sports under the umbrella of U.S. Soccer.

But it’s unclear whether SafeSport is investigating. Kira Wilson, a spokeswoman for SafeSport, said the center will not comment on specific investigations.

She said SafeSport didn’t ban Laraba’s group from telling players or parents about the allegations.

Laraba said the West Virginia Soccer Association’s lawyer advised against notifying parents. Laraba said that, “Once the information was out there [through The Dallas Morning News article] and people would ask questions of us, we could respond.”

Anton provided emails in which she repeatedly asked what parents and players were being told.

“Please know that my inquiries regarding your club’s statements stem from my intention to prevent [Longnecker] from slithering off and recreating himself somewhere else like he did after Dallas,” Anton wrote in November to Sanders. “And any exposure of him may allow any other victims to feel safe enough to come forward.”

“I completely understand,” Sanders replied. “Our hands are tied a bit on our end as there are no official charges or convictions so we cannot release details of your statement to anyone except our lawyers.”

Anton said Longnecker came to the Eastern Panhandle area when he followed her to college. She played soccer at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia.

She said she was partly inspired to come forward because Longnecker’s biography page on Shepherd’s website was — up to this week — among the first few links that pop up when you Google his name.

“Longnecker started coaching with the EPIC soccer club based in Shepherd’s back yard,” the bio said, “and created an atmosphere of success immediately.”

“His bio is full of all of his glories on the backs of his victims,” Anton said.

Owens, of Shepherd, wrote, “We did not have in October/November of 2018 the scope of information which the Dallas newspaper has now published. We did not feel that we had sufficient information in November 2018 to share with the players, beyond the fact of the change in personnel, but the University felt it had a strong basis to believe that no misconduct toward a Shepherd University student had occurred.”

The university didn’t explain what investigation, if any, led it to believe that “no misconduct toward a Shepherd University student had occurred.”

“The University is not going to make public statements about specific discussions or communications with our student athletes,” Owens wrote.

Anton said that, “I understand there are legal ramifications they’re worried about … but who suffers? The potential victims. And who benefits? Tris [Longnecker]. This is not right.”