BY ROBERT L. BAKER
Wyoming County Press Examiner
BELLEFONTE – Using the day for closing arguments at the Jerry Sandusky trial as a backdrop, a 1978 Tunkhannock Area High School graduate pleaded the case of child abuse victims last Thursday.
Bob Smalanskas had hoped to sit in the courtroom and see face-to-face the eyes of a child pedophile, and perhaps some of his victims.
But his arrival at the Centre County Courthouse just a little after 8 a.m. – after a 2-hour drive from the Harrisburg area – found him about 20 persons beyond the 85 allowed into the courtroom gallery.
So, Smalanskas had to go to Plan B.
He carried a pair of signs through and by a horde of national media that had gathered to cover the Sandusky trial.
Smalanskas told photojournalist David Tristan of Channel 27, a Harrisburg ABC-TV affiliate, “Every parent, grandparent or guardian of a young child needs to listen up. There are people still out there who have hurt your kids and will continue to hurt them if we don’t do something…”
It was a story he repeated probably eight or 10 times throughout the course of Thursday.
Some brushed him off and wouldn’t listen.
One who was intensely interested was Kay Reyes, a woman who had driven all the way from Tuscaloosa, Ala., and had been in Bellefonte to tell her story all week about a large exchange student who had victimized a couple of boys and was still, according to her, “on the loose.”
She produced a ‘wanted’ flyer for the alleged perpetrator.
Smalanskas recognized quickly that the media were present to cover somebody else, but he wasn’t going to let go of an opportunity to speak up.
One might give him a couple of minutes to hear his story; another gave him 20 or so minutes while they waited, and waited, and waited to see if the jury contemplating Penn State assistant coach Sandusky’s fate had reached a verdict.
Around 4:30 p.m., a Centre County deputy sheriff announced to the national media gathered it could be well into the evening and probably not until Friday before the jury reached a verdict on Sandusky.
(In reality, it did not reach a verdict until just before 10 p.m., Saturday, finding Sandusky guilty on 45 of 48 counts against him.)
Smalanskas, a former running back and hurdler at Tunkhannock, left Bellefonte around 5 p.m., feeling his mission for Thursday, at least, had been completed.
Although no formal charges have ever been brought against his alleged perpetrator, now an 83-year-old resident of Falls, Smalanskas and two other boys who had then reached young adulthood went to the Boy Scouts’ Wilkes-Barre Council and had him removed as scoutmaster.
On Friday, another Falls resident who asked not to be identified, distinctly remembered getting a phone call in the summer of 1989.
He was asked to go to Camp Acahela – then the Boy Scouts main summer camp – and replace the accused as an adult chaperone for the remainder of the camping week.
He had been told that there may have been some inappropriate touching involving suntan lotion or bug repellent – he couldn’t remember which – and the scoutmaster was removed.
The Falls resident said he took the sanction at face value and never questioned if there was anything more that he should be concerned about.
Smalanskas, who became an Eagle Scout in 1978, said he had since renounced scouting’s highest honor because of a Boy Scouts of America policy he recognized later was quietly removing suspected adults from contact with boys without also contacting local police.
He said that protecting the institution known as Boy Scouts is a major part of the problem, just as he believes Penn State University was in the Sandusky affair.
On Monday, Wyoming County Chief Detective David Ide said he was familiar with Smalanskas’ story, and acknowledged that the District Attorney’s office had opened an investigation, particularly to see if there might be younger victims covered by Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations.
Ide said that if there are any persons who have felt victimized by inappropriate sexual behavior, they should contact the DA’s office at 836-4681.
Smalanskas said Sunday he was grateful that the jury reached the verdict it did in the Sandusky matter, but he would never gloat about seeing a monster spend the rest of his life in prison.
“It pales by comparison to the damage done to so many lives,” he said. “We have to stop this thing. It’s just got to stop.”