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Justice, finally, for Ralph Wager’s victims

Ralph Wager finally did the right thing.

On Tuesday, just as jury selection was about to begin in Wager’s child molestation trial, the disgraced former Catawba College and youth soccer coach admitted to committing those crimes.

Nearly three years after accusations emerged that, over decades, Wager sexually assaulted boys who were in his charge as a coach or whose parents had placed their trust in him as a friend, he acknowledged his sins. He pleaded guilty to nine counts of taking indecent liberties with a child and three counts of first-degree sex offense.

“Are you in fact guilty?” Judge Erwin Spainhour asked.

“Yes,” Wager answered.

It didn’t have to go this far, but Wager has maintained his innocence since 2012, when authorities filed charges against him. That year, a man who as a 9-year-old had been molested by Wager in the 1980s — and who would have testified against him at trial — came forward after searching Wager’s name online and learning he was coaching children in a Charlotte-based soccer program.

Wager refused to admit wrongdoing even after more victims contacted authorities. One had been assaulted in 1990 at Catawba College and another in the 1960s when Wager coached high school soccer in New York. Prosecutors said this week there were more victims in New York, where the statute of limitations has expired.

He brushed off a recording secretly made by one of the victims who confronted Wager in 2012, a recording in which he seems to apologize for the crimes — until this week, when it was played in court. Wager knew a jury would hear that recording, and so did his attorney.

While Wager has admitted to victimizing those boys, he’s not the only one who should be ashamed. At least some of the crimes happened in his office and his on-campus home at Catawba College, and officials there heard from one victim’s mother in 1987 and another boy’s mother in 1990.

In 1990, Wager was allowed to resign. College officials could have reported the allegations to police. Instead, they let Wager slip away under the guise of “health concerns” and go on to interact with even more children in Charlotte.

And in 2008, Catawba officials invited Wager back to Salisbury and inducted him into the college’s sports hall of fame, from which he’s now being removed.

The people who worked at Catawba College at the time, those who were presented with accusations against Wager and who did nothing about it, may never face consequences for their inaction, but they ought to feel disgust.

As for Wager’s victims, they will never get back the time and the trust they lost to this predator. But they know he’ll spend the rest of his life in prison, with no opportunity to harm more children. Maybe with that knowledge, they will have some closure.

Finally.

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