By JENNIFER GOLSON
SOMERVILLE | A former Hunterdon County teacher convicted of sexually assaulting a player while she coached a Somerset County parochial school girls' basketball team offered a brief apology during her sentencing Friday to seven years in state prison.
"I take full responsibility for what has happened," said Pamela Balogh, 40, of Bethlehem. "I'm truly sorry for hurting her in any way."
Dressed in a navy blue suit with her hands shackled in front of her, Balogh's voice continued to break as she expressed regrets for embarrassing her family and Immaculata High School in Somerville.
In the 1980s, Balogh was a three-sport star at North Hunterdon Regional High School -- she was coaching and teaching there when charged in 2006 -- and she's the second-leading scorer in Temple University women's basketball history.
Before Superior Court Judge Edward Coleman imposed prison terms for each charge, he listened to the victim and her family describe the emotional toll.
The victim, whose name is being withheld because she is the victim of a sex crime, was 15 when the abuse started in 2004, and it lasted for nine months. Now 19, the college freshman Friday told the court she was unable to return for the spring semester, her life upended.
Coleman commended the young woman for breaking her silence, and chastised Balogh.
"She is no longer a victim," Coleman said. "She is the victor ... She has conquered the situation and your sexual abuse of her."
The teenager and her parents tried to maintain their composure as they explained the aftermath.
As someone who was active with her children, hoping to prevent such a tragedy, the mother said, "Personally, I feel like I've been sucker-punched."
Her daughter was portrayed by the defense as a liar because she didn't immediately come forward, the woman said. "What got lost in all the legalese is that she was just a child," she said.
The teenager's father talked about watching his daughter trying to regain what she has lost, taking medication, undergoing therapy and coming home exhausted.
"I struggle to understand why this has happened to my daughter," he said.
The young woman said, "My life has been split into categories of before and after."
She has suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome and doesn't play any of the sports she once did. And she doesn't know how to reconcile the guilt she feels for telling the truth.
To Balogh she said: "Pam, I don't care what sentence you get ... I refuse to feel bad for your going to jail."
She paused through tears, then added: "Bottom line: I was a child. I was innocent. I was whole ... Bottom line: You were wrong and you should have known better."
A jury in December found Balogh guilty of second-degree sexual assault; third-degree aggravated criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child; and fourth-degree criminal sexual contact. They cleared her of first-degree aggravated sexual assault.
Coleman sentenced her to concurrent terms of seven years for the second-degree charge, four years each for the third-degree counts and 12 months for the fourth-degree crime. He also ordered her to pay $10,000 in restitution for medical expenses related to counseling and other treatment.
As a coach, Balogh led the Immaculata Spartans to seven Somerset County Tournament championships.
She resigned in September 2005, when school officials first learned of something amiss, but not the assaults. She went on to coach field hockey and teach physical education at North Hunterdon High School, until her arrest in December 2006.
Somerset County Assistant Prosecutor Laurie Head-Melillo denounced the letters of support submitted on Balogh's behalf as well as her testimony at trial. They all contained a common theme, she said, "that the defendant made a mistake. She showed a lack of judgment."
"Quite frankly, that doesn't even begin to describe what happened here," Head-Melillo said. "It's a crime."
Defense attorney James Wronko insisted Balogh never implied the girl was at fault.
"This is not a matter of blaming the young girl," Wronko said. "Pam never did that."
From her first day in his office, Balogh wanted to plead guilty. "This was not a predator," he said of Balogh.
"She doesn't blame anybody but herself," Wronko said. Before her conviction, she was under a doctor's care to try and understand why this happened, he said.