Barry Wolfe

Barry Wolfe

CHARLESTON -- Facing him from the witness stand Friday, one of Barry Wolfe's former players told him he was the reason for his past, as 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.

With Wolfe having pleaded guilty and facing prison time, 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 of Wolfe's former players told their stories Friday during the hearing at which Coles County Circuit Judge Brien O'Brien decided Wolfe deserved the maximum punishment possible.

The judge sentenced Wolfe to a total of 60 years in prison on the charges to which he pleaded guilty in June. He admitted to sex acts with his players when he ran the program and coached them from 2013 to 2015, and when in their early to mid teens.

O'Brien told Wolfe that he not only violated the personal trust in his players but also took advantage of his position in the community and jeopardized 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," he said, addressing the former players. "This offense is about as egregious as they come."

Wolfe, now 54 and who lived in Martinsville, was the founder of an area American Athletic Union basketball program for girls ages 17 and younger in Illinois and Indiana.

He was arrested in October and was formally charged with committing digital penetration with two of his former players and forcing them to perform oral sex on him while they were in the program.

Multiple charges were dismissed when he pleaded guilty to four charges last month, but prison time was required with a 16- to 60-year sentence possible. There were indications of other victims but they were never named as victims in formal charges.

The allegation and charges came after the former player, now 19 years old, notified police at the university she attended that she received a message from Wolfe, according to what was presented in court Friday.

Wolfe told her he planned to visit and attend one of her basketball games there, leading her to fear for her safety, she said during her testimony.

Also, 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.

In a video recording of the interview, Wolfe went from initially denying the sex acts to later saying how they took place in his vehicle or in hotel rooms while his team was on the road for a tournament.

The three former players all described how Wolfe would threaten them with reduced playing time, an end to help getting college scholarships and, after they left the program, to expose what he said were recordings of the sexual encounters.

Register for more free articles.
Stay logged in to skip the surveys.

Each also told about ongoing mental anguish and counseling needs. One woman, the one not named in the charges, said she turned down scholastic offers from nearby schools in order to play college basketball a distance away.

"I wanted to get as far away from Barry as I could," she said, later adding that there were "nights lying in bed that I contemplated ending it all."

The third former player, who was named in the charges, said there were at least three times Wolfe came to her home unannounced and when she was alone.

She also described text messages Wolfe sent to her saying he loved her and how her cutting off communication with him was a "betrayal." She said it "didn't faze him one bit" when she told Wolfe she was afraid of him.

"Feel how dangerous he would be if he were ever to be in society again," she said in urging O'Brien to impose the maximum sentence.

Wolfe made a lengthy statement to O'Brien, saying his goal "has always been to watch kids be successful."

He called the two former players named as victims in the charge as "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."

State's Attorney Brian Bower recommended the maximum sentence and said Wolfe "groomed these young women" then "repeatedly and repeatedly sexually abused them."

"They have risen above what the defendant has put them through to tell you of the indelible scars he's left on them," Bower said.

Defense attorney Ed Piraino called the case "a tragedy" but argued that Wolfe's lack of criminal history and his contributions to his family and community meant the maximum sentence wasn't justified.

"He took it upon himself, he took responsibility," Piraino said in asking for a sentence in the range of 20-25 years.

O'Brien used descriptives including "inexcusable," "despicable" and "horrific" when speaking of Wolfe's actions.

Wolfe had been jailed since his arrest and received credit on his sentence for his time in custody since then. He will be required to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence, with no prison system reductions possible, before he's eligible for parole.

After the hearing, Piraino said he didn't know yet if Wolfe would want post-conviction motions filed to try to have his sentence reduced.

Want to see more local news like this?

Our Daily Headlines email is for you! Delivered daily at 1 p.m., you'll get the local stories you need to see directly in your inbox.

Sign up now:   

I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Subscribe to Daily Headlines

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Contact Dave Fopay at 217-238-6858. Follow him on Twitter: @FopayDave


Subscribe to the JG-TC

Reporting like this is brought to you by a staff of experienced local journalists committed to telling the stories of your community.
Support from subscribers is vital to continue our mission.

Become a subscriber

Thank you for subscribing

Your contribution makes local journalism possible.

Load comments