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Thursday, July 28, 2005
Coach offered $25 for player to hurt disabled boy

Associated Press

UNIONTOWN, Pa. -- A youth baseball coach on Thursday was ordered to stand trial for allegedly promising to pay one of his players $25 to hurt a 9-year-old mentally disabled teammate.

Eight-year-old Keith Reese testified at a preliminary hearing that T-ball coach Mark R. Downs Jr. made the offer before a June 27 playoff game.

"He told me if I would hit [the teammate] in the face, he would pay me $25," Keith said.

Reese said he had never before warmed up for a game with his mentally disabled teammate, Harry Bowers. But on that day, he did.

His first toss hit Bowers in the groin area. As the boy walked away, he said his coach told him to "go out there and hit him harder."

"So I went out and hit him in the ear," Reese said.

Downs, 27, will be arraigned Sept. 15 on two counts of criminal solicitation to commit aggravated assault and one count each of corruption of minors, criminal conspiracy and recklessly endangering another person.

A motive for the beaning was not discussed in court Thursday. But the injured boy's mother had told police that the coach looked for ways to keep her son out of games because he was not as good as other kids.

Reese's father, Keith Reese Sr., testified that the coach admitted after the game to offering his son money to hurt the other boy.

"He told me, 'I did something ignorant. I told [Keith] I'd give him $25 to hit Harry in the face to take him out of the game,"' Reese said.

Downs' attorney, Thomas W. Shaffer, denied the allegations.

Shaffer said the $25 comment likely referred to a previous game, when the coach jokingly told his team he'd offer $25 to "anybody who can line drive the ref with the ball" when he was cautioned by the umpire.

The team was part of the R.W. Clark Youth Baseball League, which ended its T-ball season earlier this month. The game was in North Union Township, 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

The younger Reese said he asked the coach for the money when the team met at an ice cream parlor after the game, but did not receive it. He said the coach told him he'd get $25 if he signed up for the fall season.

Bowers also took the witness stand, confirming he was hit twice, in the groin and ear, during warm-ups.

His mother, Jennifer Bowers, told the court that the coach came up to her afterward and suggested her son shouldn't play.

"He said the balls must be after [her son]," she testified.

Eric Forsythe, president of the R.W. Clark Youth Baseball League, said league officials looked into accusations against Downs before the season ended, but could not prove the coach did anything wrong. But Forsythe said league officials did not interview either boy.

League organizers have said Downs won't be allowed to coach again if he is convicted of criminal charges. Shaffer said Downs is not suspended and remains a coach in the league.