Originally created 07/17/04

Athlete faces child sex charges



AIKEN - A well-known area tennis pro was arrested Friday night on charges of molesting students he taught in private clinics, Aiken police said.

John Wesley Dingle, 43, of Aiken's Fairway Ridge apartments, surrendered to police at the Aiken Department of Public Safety at about 8 p.m. Friday, Sgt. David Turno said.

Mr. Dingle was briefly a fugitive when he failed to turn himself in at the prearranged time of 4 p.m., Sgt. Turno said.

Mr. Dingle was charged with four counts of criminal sexual conduct in the third degree, four counts of lewd acts on a child, three counts of criminal sexual conduct with a minor and two counts of common law assault. Police said they have identified two victims but refused to disclose their age or gender.

"They are under 17," Sgt. Turno said. "We really don't want to narrow it down to anything more specific to protect them."

He said Mr. Dingle gave private lessons to the victims, and police started an investigation in December after a parent filed a complaint.

He would not say where the incidents supposedly occurred, except to say they did not take place at any school.

"They occurred within the Aiken city limits," he said.

Sgt. Turno said police were encouraging any other victims to contact police.

"In a case like this, there's a potential for a number of victims that may come forward," he said.

Mr. Dingle was most recently employed as a tennis pro for the Fermata Club on Whiskey Road, though it was unclear whether he still worked there. Calls to the club went unanswered Friday afternoon.

Sgt. Turno said Mr. Dingle also provided private lessons at homes and country clubs in Aiken and Augusta.

Mr. Dingle previously coached the girls' tennis team at South Aiken High School but hasn't been employed by the school system in at least a year, Aiken School Superintendent Linda Eldridge said.

"I know of no accusations while he was coaching and I know he was never a teacher for us," she said. "I'm anxious to get more details. ... I'm very concerned about all of this."

Members of the Aiken tennis community expressed dismay at the allegations.

"I'm shocked," said Royce Borden, the president of the 500-member Aiken Area Tennis Association. "He was a very talented coach and probably one of the best coaches I ever had. He took his time and a had a unique coaching style and really knew the game."

Said Houndslake Country Club tennis pro Arturo Costa, "On the professional level he was very well-respected. He coached a couple of top-ranked amateurs."

Mr. Dingle was profiled in a September 2002 Augusta Chronicle article. The native of Florence, S.C., first moved to Aiken in 1988 after a three-year stint as an assistant basketball coach with South Carolina State.

He spent 10 years coaching and teaching at a number of area tennis facilities, including Houndslake, Woodside Plantation Country Club and the H. Odell Weeks Activities Center.

In 1998, he left Aiken to coach at the renowned Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he worked with such future stars as Venus and Serena Williams.

In 2000, Mr. Dingle moved back to Aiken to become the head tennis pro at the Fermata Club.

An initial appearance and bond hearing for Mr. Dingle had not been scheduled as of Friday night.

He remained in the Aiken County Detention Center without bail.

Reach Stephen Gurr or Karen Ethridge at (803) 648-1395.