Former baseball coach accused of taking money collected for team

AIKEN -- Midland Valley High School's former baseball coach has been jailed on allegations he solicited money for the sports team for the past two years but used the money instead for his personal debts, officials said.

Bruce E. Zuehlke, 44, of North Augusta, is charged with two counts of obtaining property by false pretenses, more than $5,000. He was jailed at the Aiken County detention center and later released on a $10,000 bond.

Since 2006, he used solicited funds intended for advertisements at the high school baseball field to cover personal debts totaling more than $12,000, said Lt. Troy Elwell, a spokesperson for the Aiken County Sheriff's Office.

The veteran teacher and coach is accused of misappropriating $6,465 between Sept. 1, 2006, and Sept. 17, 2007, and $5,700 between Sept. 23, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2008, totaling $12,165.

Bill Burkhalter, school board attorney, said the financial discrepancies became apparent during an internal audit that was launched in the spring of this year, but weeding through the files and tracking the money was a painstakingly slow process for the auditor.

Zuehlke had been the school's baseball coach, assistant football coach and social studies teacher at Midland Valley High School.

His dates of employment were from Aug. 19, 1991, through Oct. 16, 2008, Burkhalter said.

He had been placed on paid administrative leave on Sept. 7, but at the time, school officials would not comment on their reasons, saying it was a personnel matter that could not be discussed.

Following his departure, parents of the players voiced concerns about his replacement, saying a top-level coach would be essential to maintain the high level of success of Mustang baseball.

Zuehlke led the Midland Valley baseball team to a Class AAA state title in 1997. Last season, he led the Mustangs to a berth in the Lower State championship final, which ended with an 8-1 loss to Brookland-Cayce High School in the deciding contest of a two-game set.

The school is continuing its search for a full-time teacher/coach, Burkhalter said.

-- Aiken Standard, McClatchy-Tribune Regional News