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Sports: Troubled fund manager makes new start on the court
By Roger Greene
Stan Kowalewski does not take his involvement with the Waccamaw Middle School basketball team for granted. A year after being charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission with securities fraud, Kowalewski sees his return to the bench as a volunteer coach as the start of a new chapter in his life.
A former fund manager in Greensboro, N.C., Kowalewski and his family moved to the Pawleys Island area last year. In September, he was fined $16.8 million by a U.S. District Court judge in Atlanta and ordered to repay $8.6 million in what the court called “ill gotten gains.”
He appealed the fine and while it is pending before the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Kowalewski says working with middle school athletes has rekindled his passion for basketball.
“It’s been great,” said Kowalewski, a high school standout in New York who played basketball at Dartmouth College. “The kids are fun to work with. The parents and administration are very supportive. It’s been a while since I’ve coached at the middle school level. It’s rewarding.”
Kowalewski’s interest in coaching at Waccamaw Middle arose from one of his four children being on the team. When he resigned from his previous head coaching position at the private Oak Hill Military Academy in North Carolina, he did so with the intention of spending more time with his children and helping them reach their academic and athletic potential. It is a commitment he does not take lightly.
“I’ve watched my own kids grow up around basketball,” Kowalewski said. “I’ve coached their AAU teams and tried to be involved with helping them as much as they’ve wanted me to be. I’ve made a pact with myself that I’m only going to be involved with coaching teams my sons play for. They have a love for the game and I have plenty of years of basketball left with them. I don’t want to have any regrets that I didn’t give them every minute of time they wanted.”
Principal Bill Dwyer and basketball coach Marion Busby say Kowalewski’s influence reaches far beyond that of his own son. Both say his presence has benefitted the entire team.
“He’s made a very positive impact on the team,” Dwyer said. “I’m a big fan of middle school sports, I understand the good they do and the influence they have. Stan has been here day in and day out doing all he can to help.”
Volunteers are required to submit information for background checks, and Dwyer said there were no issues raised with Kowalewski’s. The SEC charges were a civil action.
“Stan and I work very well together,” Busby said. “He knows the game and brings a fresh perspective to what we are trying to do. Being able to work with him, and having him involved with our team, has been great.”
The importance of education and the need to be involved in the community have always been points of emphasis for Kowalewski throughout his 16-year coaching career. A recent visit he organized to Tara Hall provides an example.
The team “brought lunch and Christmas presents to the kids and had a great time,” Kowalewski said. “It was important for our players to see that not everyone is as fortunate as they are. It made them think and put things in perspective. It had a real impact on them.”
The SEC complaint focused on a “hedge fund of funds” that Kowalewski created in 2009 that attracted $65 million in investments from pension funds, school endowments, hospitals and nonprofits, according to court records.
The commission charged that Kowalewski diverted money from the fund to pay for his personal expenses. He then created a second fund, which he did not disclose to the original investors, that bought Kowalewski’s $2.8 million home, a $3.9 million beach house on Pawleys Island and paid a $4 million fee to Kowalewski’s management company.
The SEC charged that the $16.5 million was put into the second fund in violation of disclosures made to investors in the original fund. The commission said Kowalewski “artificially inflated investment returns” in the second fund in order to conceal its existence and its transactions from investors in the original fund.
The court took control of his assets and appointed a receiver.
Kowalewski characterized the complaint as “a difference of opinion” with the SEC. “That is a chapter I have closed,” he said.
Part of Kowalewski’s new beginning was a relocation to Pawleys Island. He and his wife are building a new business and he is also state director for USSSA basketball, a youth league for boys and girls ages 9 to 17.
“We vacationed in Pawleys Island for about 10 years,” said Kowalewski, who was raised in Syracuse, N.Y. “We came down ever summer. At first it was for a week at a time, then it became three or four weeks. We just love the area.”
Kowalewski – 6-foot-8 – received several scholarship offers following his high school career, but chose to attend Dartmouth. Like other Ivy League schools it does not offer athletic scholarships. While there, he became a burgeoning entrepreneur through necessity, starting a sportswear company, a disc jockey service and newspaper delivery service to help pay tuition.
“I loved the experience,” Kowalewski said. “Ivy League basketball is very unique. It’s the only league that plays back-to-back nights on the weekends so you don’t miss school during the week. There is no conference tournament, so there is a high priority on the regular season.
“The closest friends I have today are the guys I played basketball with at Dartmouth.”
Having to balance personal responsibilities with the demands in the classroom and on the court taught Kowalewski many life lessons. He and Busby, a former star at the College of Charleston and a member of the Cougars Hall of Fame, are both committed to ensuring those lessons filter down to the Wildcats.
“We try to instill in our players the need to be responsible,” Kowalewski said. “If you are not getting it done in the classroom, you’re going to sit. Nobody remembers who wins middle school basketball championships. But kids who move on to be successful high school athletes, and hopefully go on to have success after that, are the ones who learn to be disciplined at a young age.”
Kowalewski started his career in fund management in Toronto and worked in Washington before starting his firm in Greensboro. He also found time for coaching. He coached at four area high schools in Greensboro, led several AAU squads and also served as an assistant coach at both UNC-Greensboro and Greensboro College.
His greatest success came at Northern Guilford High, which he led to a 3-A state title in 2009. However, that title was taken away when it was ruled the Nighthawks used two ineligible players during their championship run. Kowalewski says his status as the only non-faculty coach in the county created animosity toward his program.
“To this day, everyone involved, at least on our side of the fence, believes [we] did nothing wrong,” Kowalewski said. “We had two kids whose parents had different households. In one family, the parents were separated, in the other they were divorced. Two of the households were in one district, the others were in different districts. It was a question of which one they lived in the most.
“Both kids had been registered by their parents for our school. Both of them had played for us the year before, when we didn’t win the state championship, and nobody had a problem then. So the year we do win, all of the sudden there was a problem.”
Like any coach, Kowalewski has his detractors. But he also has a network of players, parents and fellow coaches who stand in his corner.
“The kids who bought into our program, who understand what it was about, know we were in it for them,” Kowalewski said. “There are 27 kids I’ve coached, in either AAU or high school, who are playing in college right now. The best thing for me is when I get the phone calls or texts saying ‘Hey coach, I had 10 points last night or I got a 3.4 [GPA] last semester.’ That’s the biggest reward I can ask for.”