Friday, March 6, 2015

Rick O'Brien: A shocking turnaround for coach

Lou Spadaccini is facing drug, sex charges involving minors.
Lou Spadaccini is facing drug, sex charges involving minors.

He went from respected baseball patriarch to alleged child predator.

Lou Spadaccini, who built formerly downtrodden Neumann-Goretti into a perennial area power over the last five seasons, was arrested Monday, first charged with plying a 14-year-old boy with alcohol and drugs in a hotel room.

That, of course, was just the first of several mind-numbing developments in the case. He was rearrested the next day, this time for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old boy several times in recent months.

Spadaccini poured much of his time and heart into baseball, both at Neumann-Goretti and in local youth organizations, so the charges were quite a shock.

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While Spadaccini could sometimes be arrogant on the diamond, it seemed that he generally cared for his players and had their best interests in mind.

Last year, in a story I wrote about the Neumann-Goretti baseball "family," Spadaccini had this to say: "I know I would do anything for these kids, and I know they would do anything for me. It goes really deep."

Spadaccini, assistants Matt Cella and Phil Cardella, and 17 or so players regularly got together for laughter-filled barbecues, Xbox competitions, and Phillies games, or just to hang out.

Now, unfortunately, Spadaccini's motives have to be questioned. Was he "grooming" certain players, using his influence as head coach to win over vulnerable teenagers? Was he, in essence, a wolf in sheep's clothing?

"Coach Lou" was arraigned Thursday, with bail set at $2 million. Considering the accusations, especially the one of his giving a 13-year-old alcohol and having sex with him three times in July and August, the high amount was fitting.

Sex crimes against insecure minors, in which an adult uses his wiles and charisma to gain personal pleasure, are indeed the most despicable. Few, including the prison community, are forgiving of such acts.

In the South Philly neighborhood where Spadaccini lived with his parents, residents were stunned at the charges against the outgoing and likable coach.

"They want to believe Lou because he was such a nice guy," neighbor Alex Butler, 20, told an Inquirer reporter. "But now they don't know what to believe."

It doesn't look good for the Saints coach. Police investigators were interviewing other possible victims and gathering more physical evidence, including the activity logs of Spadaccini's cellphone and the alleged victims' cellphones.

Police also were checking surveillance tapes at the Holiday Inn on Packer Avenue, where Spadaccini allegedly took the 14-year-old Neumann-Goretti student last Sunday and gave the boy a mixed drink spiked with a Xanax pill.

On Tuesday, when a CBS3 reporter knocked on the door of Spadaccini's home on South Iseminger Street, his father said, "We're just sick, OK? The kid did nothing but good all his life."

While Spadaccini might not be deserving of compassion, you have to feel for his retired parents and his 8-year-old son, who was a fixture at Neuman-Goretti games. They are sure to face scorn and harassment in a tough-as-nails neighborhood.

As a baseball manager, Spadaccini, a South Philly native and all-Catholic League outfielder for St. John Neumann in the early 1990s, was on the fast track.

In 2009, just his third season at the helm, he led the Saints to a 20-4 record and the program's first Catholic League championship since 1960 (the school was then Bishop Neumann).

After a losing first-year campaign, Spadaccini compiled a 77-16 record (.828 winning percentage) over the last four seasons. Last spring the team won 22 straight games, bagging another league title, before losing in the first round of the state playoffs.

He is the second Catholic League baseball coach to be arrested recently for charges involving a minor. In April, ex-Archbishop Carroll boss Fran Murphy was charged with seeking sexual favors from an underage boy, a former student at Carroll, in exchange for sneakers and other athletic gear.

Contacted at the time for a reaction to the Murphy case, Spadaccini told me, "I'm shocked and dismayed. It's a black eye for the Catholic League. Outside of this, he seemed like a pretty good guy."

Now, sadly, if the accusations are true, the same could be said about this once-admired coach.

 


Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien at 610-313-8019, robrien@phillynews.com,

or @ozoneinq on Twitter.

Rick O'Brien Inquirer Columnist
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