Sandia High School’s recently fired varsity girls soccer coach expressed sorrow over the way his dismissal played out for the program and for himself.
Troy Wheeler sat down with the Journal on Friday and offered his first in-depth comments on the events that led to him being fired on Aug. 24, three days before what would have been his first game as the Matadors’ coach.
The 39-year-old La Cueva High graduate was nearly $2,500 behind on child support payments, and in July, a bench warrant, citing contempt of court, was issued for Wheeler on behalf of the Child Support Enforcement Division.
Wheeler was arrested on the evening of Aug. 21 on the Sandia campus, according to his Metropolitan Detention Center booking sheet. The Journal learned he was at practice that day, took a phone call, walked out of practice and didn’t return.
Three days later, Albuquerque Public Schools fired Wheeler, who was a contract coach for the Matadors and not a teacher.
“The minute we became aware of it,” APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta said, “we responded by releasing him of his duties.”
Sandia, which promoted Jay Sheraden to head coach upon Wheeler’s dismissal, is off to a 3-3 start that includes a 2-1 win Saturday over Hobbs at the APS Soccer Complex.
Wheeler said he understood why APS had to take such action.
“I mean, it was something I didn’t take care of, which I should have taken care of, and I take responsibility for it,” Wheeler said. “And I really apologize to the people at Sandia that I let down.”
In September of last year, Wheeler was ordered to begin making monthly payments of $319 to catch up on nearly $30,000 of child support payments.
By July, he was supposed to have paid just over $4,200, but had paid only $1,730, according to the bench warrant issued through district court in Albuquerque. He was ordered held until he paid a bond covering the $2,471 he still owed. That payment was made, but not before Wheeler had to spend several days behind bars.
He had spent the previous four years as a varsity assistant with the La Cueva High girls before being hired to take over Sandia’s program.
Wheeler said he had “no idea” there was an outstanding bench warrant for his arrest.
“I wish I would have known about it, and I would have taken care of it,” he said. “It’s really been a bad thing, but I’m going to take care of this so it’ll never happen again and keep pushing forward, because I love coaching kids.”
His future as a high school coach is uncertain; Wheeler told the Journal that APS would review his case in a year.
He also works as a coach and, he said, as the director of coaching, for Athletico New Mexico, a local club soccer program. Wheeler said he was suspended for a couple of weeks but has been reinstated. The Journal could not independently confirm that with club officials.
“I definitely want to continue coaching; that is my goal in life,” Wheeler said.
An APS background check didn’t flag Wheeler despite past legal trouble that included two DWI arrests, both of which were dismissed, and a domestic abuse case that was dismissed and never prosecuted a decade ago.
“He passed it,” Armenta said. “There was never any reason to question him.”
The DWIs occurred in August 2009 and March 2011. The domestic abuse case occurred in December 2008 but was dismissed for lack of prosecution in September 2009. Those are all misdemeanor charges, and because they took place more than five years ago, had no bearing on his ability to be employed by APS.
APS’ background checks on potential employees are done through APS Police, Armenta said. It was formerly conducted by APS’ human resources department, but was switched to APS Police several years ago.
“APS has one of the most, or the most, thorough background systems of any district in the state,” she said.
Wheeler also has to appear in a Hidalgo County court for an April 10, 2015, speeding ticket he was given near Lordsburg for driving 105 mph on an interstate. At the time, his license was suspended, and the report cites child support as a reason for the suspension of his driving privileges.
For now, Wheeler said, he simply wants to repair his damaged image.
“I feel worse for the kids that I’ve let down,” Wheeler said through tears. He added, “I know I made a mistake. I let it go and let it go, and I shouldn’t have.”
Journal Staff Writer Katy Barnitz contributed to this story.