CHARLESTON — Facing Barry Wolfe from the witness stand Friday, one of his former players told him he is responsible for his own past, but she was the reason for his present and future.
The young woman who once played in the area youth basketball program Wolfe founded was the first of his former players to come forward to tell of sexual abuse at his hands.
During the sentencing hearing in which Wolfe, 54, received a 60-year prison term, she told him she reported what he'd done because "I had enough."
"I'm glad to see you were foolish enough not to believe I was strong enough to take back what was mine," she said.
"I forgive you, not for you but for me, because hate is a way to hold on to the past and you don't belong here anymore."
She and two other former players told their stories Friday during the hearing at which Coles County Circuit Judge Brien O'Brien gave Wolfe the maximum sentence allowed by law.
He pleaded guilty in June to four counts of criminal sexual assault involving players, who were in their early to mid teens, when he ran the program and coached them from 2013 to 2015.
O'Brien told Wolfe he not only violated the personal trust of his players but also took advantage of his position in the community, jeopardizing the work and reputations of all other coaches and youth mentors.
"You should take comfort in the fact that you're not alone and kept others from harm at the hands of this man," the judge told the former players. "This offense is about as egregious as they come."
Wolfe, who lived in Martinsville, founded an area American Athletic Union basketball program for girls ages 17 and younger in Illinois and Indiana.
Multiple charges were dismissed when he pleaded guilty, and there were indications of other victims who never were named in formal charges.
Wolfe will be required to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence before he's eligible for parole.
The charges came after a former player notified police at the university she attended that she received a message from Wolfe, who told her he planned to attend one of her games, leading her to fear for her safety, according to testimony Friday.
Now-retired Mattoon Police Chief Jeff Branson said his department was notified because the player was from Mattoon. He said Wolfe was then interviewed and eventually admitted to sexual contact with that former player and others.
The three former players described how Wolfe would threaten them with reduced playing time, which would hurt their chance for college scholarships, and to reveal what he said were recordings of the sexual encounters.
Wolfe made a lengthy statement to O'Brien, saying his goal "has always been to watch kids be successful."
He called former players named as victims "two of the most awesome individuals I've known," but added that he "maybe didn't approach things right."
"I will go to my grave, and if that grave's in prison, so be it, but please understand that I care about these kids," Wolfe said. "I ask that when you consider my fate you know I am not a bad person but someone who made mistakes."