'If I can change one kid's life ...'

·3 min read

Aug. 18—PEABODY — He recently turned 50.

But certain things — like the smell of a certain brand of cologne — will take him back to a time when he was a vulnerable 16-year-old boy who just wanted to play basketball.

The man, who still lives in Essex County, is one of at least 13 men who allege in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that they were sexually — and sometimes physically — abused by James Toltz, a former Kennedy Junior High and Higgins Middle School gym teacher and coach.

Toltz, now 80 and long retired to Florida, taught in Peabody from 1969 until 1996.

The man, known in court papers as "John Doe 1002," was on a basketball team Toltz coached in the 1980s.

"He always, from the time we first started tryouts, would say if you made the team you have to wear jock straps," the man recalled. "He was very big into jock straps. Later I found out why."

One afternoon, Toltz called him into his office.

Toltz pulled down the teen's pants and shorts. "He grabbed my private parts. It was probably 10 seconds but it felt like 10 minutes."

"I felt powerless, bullied, scared to death," he said. "It was the scariest thing I ever experienced."

"I expect you to have a jock strap on from now on," he quoted Toltz as telling him.

But it didn't protect him from the leering eyes of Toltz, he recalled. Toltz would also force the boys to shower after practice and games — even if they could have just gone home to shower in private.

"Why can't we take one when we get home?" he recalled asking.

Toltz's office was next to the showers. The man recalled going to a sink to wet his hair so that he would look as if he'd showered. "I was scared to death," he said.

He is working to deal with the fallout in his own life, including anxiety so severe it triggers seizures, and coping with the things — like the smell of the cologne Toltz wore, or a story on the news — that cause the memories to intrude on his life and work.

At the time, he didn't have anyone he could turn to about something that, for years, he kept private out of a misplaced sense of embarrassment.

Now, "I want to be a voice for these kids," he said. "I want them to know there are people who can fix this. I want to be an advocate for them."

"If I can change one kid's life, it will be worth it," he said. "I couldn't care less about the money."

And he'd like to see Toltz held accountable in one other way. "I want him behind bars," he said.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis