For years, Scott Appledorn tried to wash away vivid, painful memories, with the help of alcohol, of years of sexual abuse at the hands of his youth tennis coach, hoping the memories somehow would be gone when the glass or bottle was empty.
The abuse that started, Appledorn says when he was “9 or 10” and continued into the late 1970s during his teen years in western Michigan.
His coach was Bob Love, a highly decorated tennis instructor who worked in several states, including Kentucky where he’s a member of the United States Tennis Association Kentucky Hall of Fame.
Love also spent several years coaching junior tennis teams and offering lessons locally.
“I traveled with him to a tennis tournament,” Appledorn said. “It was your typical abuse, basically. A lot of gifts; warmup suits, tennis racquets. The way that he justified everything is that he’s my mother’s cousin.”
Appledorn, now 57, says the sexual abuse happened for nearly five years.
Late last year, Love, 80, pleaded no contest to a Level II felony charge in Grand Haven, Michigan, of second-degree criminal sexual contact as part of a plea deal. A no contest plea typically is made when the defendant does not want to admit guilt, yet chooses to not dispute the charges in court.
Love, who said he had a stroke and heart attack last year, received a one-year sentence that was suspended, according to the plea agreement. He could have faced up to 15 years on the charge.
“What happened in Michigan has nothing whatsoever to do with the state of Kentucky,” Love said. “Nothing.”
“I don’t want anyone in Kentucky to think what happened in Michigan had anything to do with any of my activities in this state, and that’s very important to me, and clearly it has nothing, clearly, to do with E’town or anything in this area,” he added.
During a nine-minute interview last week, Love called the charge leveled against him “shocking” and “surprising” and said the case was “complex.”
“It was something that happened 43 years ago, an anomaly,” he said. “As to what really happened to plead the way I did, my attorney told me not to comment on that and it’s a complex case.”
Appledorn said he first met Love during a youth tennis tournament in South Bend, Indiana, he attended with his mother.
He said the first contact began at either the “first or second” tournament Appledorn attended with Love. It escalated when Appledorn, who described himself in youth as somewhat of a “tennis prodigy,” resided in Love’s home and attended a prestigious tennis academy.
“When it really got serious, he was a tennis coach in suburban Detroit,” Appledorn said. “The best tennis in Michigan was on that side of the state. If you want to get good, that’s where you went.”
Appledorn said Love helped him obtain a scholarship to the academy, but his life was not what he imagined.
“It was hell on earth,” he said.
Appledorn, who went on to become an All-American tennis player at Ferris State University in Michigan, said he never told his parents about the abuse because he feared what coming forward would do to his family.
“My dad is an old-school guy,” he said. “Bob used him against me. He said if I told my father he would be in jail and he was right because if my dad knew, he would have killed him.”
Appledorn said Love performed sex acts upon him and he refused to do anything with Love. Appledorn said when Love attempted to kiss him he clenched his teeth and mouth.
“I’m just a kid,” he said. “You’re ashamed, you’re scared.”
When he was 15, Appledorn said he stopped contact with Love. When it came time to travel to a tournament, he refused to go if he was to travel with Love.
Appledorn said he finally decided to come forward to try and salvage his life, which has included divorce, addiction and suicide attempts.
He said a close friend in the Ottawa County Child Advocacy Center convinced him if he wanted to move forward with his life he had to confront his past.
After years of refusing action, Appledorn said he went to police about three years ago.
Appledorn said when he reached sobriety about 12 years ago is when the challenge of understanding what happened to him escalated.
“It affects your whole life,” Appledorn said. “When I sobered up is when it got really bad.”
According to court documents, the defendant engaged in sexual contact with a 14-15-year-old under the following circumstance(s): the victim was at least 13 but less than 16 years of age and defendant coerced the victim to submit by exerting his/her authoritative position as his coach.”
“We pled no contest for a reason,” Love said. “It was to ease the situation. I was very surprised by the whole thing. I was shocked. I’ve not dealt with the issue until more than a year ago.
“This has nothing to with today, it doesn’t have anything to do with now,” he added. “There’s all kinds of issues in this thing. It has nothing to do with Bob Love today or Bob Love for the last 36 years.”
Appledorn said he resisted coming forward to law enforcement for a long time.
“I had to get closure somehow,” he said.
He said he called Love once.
“I talked to him and I’ve asked for him to tell me he was sorry in the past so I could move on,” Appledorn said. “He never did.”