A girls basketball coach at West Salem (Ore.) High School has been arrested on accusations of having inappropriate sexual relations with a female basketball player under the age of 16.
Emrance Berger, 30, faces charges of sodomy and sex abuse by a coach and was taken to the Polk County Jail, Salem Police said in a press release.
Police said Berger has been the assistant varsity coach and the head junior varsity coach.
Lt. Steve Birr of the Salem Police Department confirmed the victim is a student and basketball player.
The girl disclosed the information to her parents Monday night. They contacted a school resource officer Tuesday morning who then called detectives, Birr said.
The Salem-Keizer School District said Berger has been employed as a coach since 2012. A spokeswoman declined to comment further. However, he has been associated with high school basketball as a volunteer for years more.
Berger is a manager in the Oregon Department of Human Services, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Salem resident Scott Faber has two daughters who played on the West Salem High girls basketball team several years ago. Faber personally knew Berger while he was in an assistant coach role and Faber took stats at his daughters’ games.
The allegations, Faber said, came as a big surprise.
“Surprised first of all, and secondly I guess, I’m not sure, sometimes these things go both ways,” Faber said. “There are false accusations made and there are true accusations made.”
Berger was close with the players, but Faber never noticed anything suspicious.
“He was close with them, but he always was professional,” Faber said.
“My look at it at this point without knowing more of the facts or evidence would be that I would look at it with caution,” Faber said. “My knowledge of him would not support that at this point.”
Faber said he couldn’t recall how Berger became associated with the team but thought he had ties to head coach Jason Unruh.
Victoria Shinder, a friend of Berger’s, confirmed that he graduated from South Salem High School. Her reaction to the allegations was shock.
“Em is an amazing guy. He’s a sweetheart. He’s professional,” she said. “All I can say is this is beyond out of character.”
Shinder wasn’t sure how Berger became associated with the basketball team, but she said he has a passion for sports.
“I know Emrance, this really hurts,” she said. “It broke my heart to know this is something he has to deal with.”
“There are comments being said without any official proof of evidence,“ she said.
Two other families with associations to the team declined to comment.
There have been others in school positions in the past few years to be accused of sex abuse. In 2012, Scott Zeigler, a former coach of the Jefferson High School girls basketball team, was sentenced to 46 months in prison for sex abuse of a former player. The sex abuse began in March 2009 and lasted until September 2011.
Prior to that, former Sprague teacher Michael Montgomery was sentenced in August 2012 to 48 months in prison for having sex with a 17-year-old girl.
Joce DeWitt also writes for the Statesman Journal.