Former Aau Kingpin, Accused Child Molester Dead at Age 80

By Zach Braziller
New York Post
May 16, 2012

Riverside Church founder Ernie Lorch passed away on Monday.

Ernie Lorch, the controversial founder and director of the powerhouse Riverside Church Hawks AAU program who mentored numerous inner-city youth into NBA basketball careers, passed away Monday morning of natural causes at the age of 80, The Post has learned.

Lorch, a multimillionaire corporate attorney who turned Riverside Church into arguably the nation's elite program before allegations of sexual abuse of a former player led to his resignation in 2002, died while at a Yonkers nursing home, close family friend Seldon Jefferson said.

He had a stroke two years ago, was in declining health and suffered from diabetes and dementia, those close to him said. His family declined to speak to the media, Jefferson said. Arrangements have yet to be made.

"The basketball community in New York City will never be the same," said Jefferson, who played for Lorch, went on to West Virginia and is now an assistant coach at Thomas Jefferson. "They don't make guys like that anymore."

Lorch was also indicted by a Massachusetts grand jury for allegedly molesting a New York teenager in Amherst more than 30 years ago, but in November a Westchester judge ruled Lorch wasn't competent to be extradited to stand trial.

Nowadays New York City has several AAU programs which travel the country during the spring and summer; Lorch started the tradition in the 1980s and 1990s by personally financing trips to California, Arizona and even Europe. Current Syracuse assistant coach Adrian Autry, a Riverside alum, said the first time he ever left New York City was on one of those trips, like so many of his other teammates.

"He was the Godfather of the super AAU teams," said Kenny Pretlow, an assistant coach at PSAL dynamo Lincoln who coached under Lorch and considered him a mentor. "At our height, we were the No. 1 AAU team in the country. A lot of guys started to emulate what we did."

One of them was Gary Charles, the director of the New York Panthers. When Riverside Church was at its best, Charles was just making his way onto the AAU scene. Riverside Church had an aura about them, Charles said, a "we are better than you" swagger.

"When I first started, that's who I wanted to be like," Charles said. "All of us in New York owe him some gratitude for paving the road. I do know this: When we finally beat them for the first time, quietly I felt like we reached the pinnacle."

Arguably Lorch's best team featured Metta World Peace, Elton Brand, Erick Barkley, Andrew Glover and Lamar Odom, which lost one game all summer, scout Tom Konchalski said. Others to pass through the program included Mark Jackson, Walter Berry, Chris Mullin, Malik Sealy, Kenny Smith and Albert King.

"Ernie Lorch at one time was probably the most powerful man in the high school/AAU basketball community on the East Coast," Konchalski said. "Riverside Church was the gold standard of AAU programs."

Lorch ran Riverside Church from 1961-2002 and began the athletic program, which included baseball and football, as an outreach for troubled teenagers. He also coached football and would often arrive at basketball games in boots caked with mud.

"That's an indelible memory," Konchalski said.

He was described by those in the basketball community as "kind-hearted" and "selfless." When Jefferson started the Thomas Jefferson program with Lawrence Pollard, Lorch personally paid for the team's uniforms.

"There wasn't a man in basketball with a bigger heart than Mr. Lorch," Jefferson said. "He was the epitome of the word selfless."

Autry, the former Syracuse star, added: "I always said if I didn't have Riverside Church, I don't know where I would've ended up. I really give a lot of credit to him for where I am today and for the type of person I turned out to be."

Jefferson said Lorch paid for his tuition when he attended Bishop Loughlin along with several other top Catholic school players across the city. He would purchase dress clothes for players and arrange for travel so they could get home at a reasonable hour in addition to bankrolling the month-long trips over the summer for a number of his teams. He arranged for them to attend individual showcases and was there for kids in need.

"When kids got arrested or had a legal problem, they called 1-800-Ernie Lorch," said Cardozo coach Ron Naclerio, a close friend of Lorch's. "He was the first guy there to bail them out."

Pretlow said Lorch rarely spoke of the accusations. When he stepped down, Lorch did so to help the program, only it crumbled without him. He was reportedly indicted last October for indecent assault, battery of a person over 14 years old and attempted rape and there were other reported complaints of abuse also.

"Do we know it's true? Only he and his accusers know what's true," Jefferson said. "I was always taught treat people the way they treat you. I'm going to remember Ernie Lorch for all the good and great he did for me, my family and my program over here at Jefferson."



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