Former girls coach to stand trial

A former Altoona Area girls assistant soccer coach will stand trial on a charge that she had a brief sexual relationship with one of her players a year ago.

Defense attorney Steven P. Passarello in October asked Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan to dismiss a charge of institutional sexual assault against the former coach, Kyla A. Hollingshead, 25, because the relationship allegedly occurred after soccer season was completed and after she received her last paycheck for the 2012-13 year.

At that point she was, Passarello argued, no longer “an employee, volunteer or coach” for the school district.

Deputy District Attorney Wade Kagarise countered with the argument that while the soccer season may have been completed, Hollingshead was hired by the school district as a coach for the entire school year and therefore was still in a position of authority.

Sullivan stressed in his seven-page opinion issued Thursday afternoon that both sides stipulated to the facts of the case as outlined in the Altoona Police Department’s charging documents, but that stipulation was only for purposes of this one issue – whether the charge of institutional sexual assault should be dismissed.

The defense still maintains Hollingshead’s innocence, meaning it will be up to a jury to decide the ultimate facts of the case.

According to the charges, the soccer season began Aug. 13, 2012, and ended Oct. 13, 2012. Hollingshead’s final paycheck for the season was issued on Nov. 23, 2012.

The coach is alleged to have had a sexual relationship with the player after Thanksgiving 2012 until Christmas break 2012.

The judge in coming to a decision made it clear that the institutional sexual assault law, a felony of the third degree, was modified in May 2012 to include coaches and was designed to protect children from sexual assault by people who had power over them.

“There can be no question that there is a power imbalance between a high school coach and his/her student-athletes,” the judge stated.

He said that the student athlete spends a great deal of time and effort with the ultimate hope of earning playing time.

“To have a coach create any situation where a minor student-athlete feels pressured to engage in sexual activity with the hope of receiving favorable treatment relative to his/her position on the team, playing time, etc., is clearly coercive,” the judge said.

Institutional sexual assault was a law that originally was to protect inmates from forced sexual activity with corrections officers, but the power imbalance, the judge reasoned, clearly exists in a player-coach relationship.

“There are strong public policies behind the statute in question. The Commonwealth has a compelling state interest in protecting students not only in school, but also in any school-related extra-curricular activity,” the judge said.

And he concluded the relationship does not just exist during a sports season but “during the entire period of time that the coach/student athlete relationship exists.”

Hollingshead was hired by the school district as an assistant coach for the entire 2012-13 school year, he decided.

Despite the judge’s ruling, Passarello will be entitled to present the question of whether Hollingshead was technically the coach at the time of the sexual activity to the jury.

Hollingshead resigned on Feb. 14, 2013, as the coach, a position she had held since the 2010-11 school year.

Her next court appearance will be Monday during a review of the trial list.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.