HELENA, Mont. -- The stocky man showed up in a basketball uniform for a game at Century High School in North Dakota. Players and coaches assumed he was a fan who had come with another team, so nobody objected when he began to pitch in around the bench.
"He helped lay out uniforms, got water. He even gave a couple of kids shoulder massages. Creepy stuff like that," said Jim Haussler, activities director for the Bismarck Public School District.
After the game was over, the man joined the winning team on the court and asked if he could get a piggyback ride. One bemused player gave it to him.
AP Photo/Bismarck SchoolsSecurity footage taken this month at Century High School in Bismarck, N.D., shows a man identified as Sherwin Shayegan of Bothell, Wash., known as the 'piggyback bandit.'
"He makes himself appear as if he's limited or handicapped. I think he plays an empathy card, so to speak," Haussler said. "We didn't realize what we were dealing with until several days later."
What they were dealing with the night of Feb. 4 was the Piggyback Bandit -- Sherwin Shayegan of Bothell, Wash., a 28-year-old man who ingratiates himself with high school sports teams, then hoists his 5-foot-8, 240-pound frame onto the backs of the student athletes.
Shayegan's antics stretch back to 2008 and had been mainly confined to Washington and Oregon. But since last fall, he has worked his way east to Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota, leaving a trail of befuddled athletes in his wake.
Shayegan has asked for piggybacks, attempted to pay for piggybacks and just sprung one upon an unsuspecting kid. He favors basketball games, but he also has leapt onto hockey, soccer and football players.
He has pretended to interview athletes for a term paper, acted as a team manager or just tried to blend in with the crowd for a piggyback payoff.
Why he does it is unclear, as is who came up with the "Piggyback Bandit" nickname that now follows him wherever he goes.
"Why he does it is unclear?" No it's not. It seems pretty obvious that he has some kind of "piggyback" fetish, and that he receives some measure of sexual gratification -- however strange it may be -- from jumping on young athletes' backs.
The only thing that's "unclear" is whether or not the kids whose backs he jumps on feel something poking them in the back.
Well, that and what his parents were smoking when they named their kid "Sherwin."
Little is publicly available about Shayegan's background, other than his arrest record. Phone numbers listed for relatives rang unanswered, and messages left were unreturned.
One person who has known Shayegan for several years is Mike Colbrese, the executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. Colbrese said he became acquainted with Shayegan about seven years ago, when Shayegan was a common fixture at games and used to ask for work as a waterboy in state high school basketball tournaments.
"He would just wander around. You wouldn't see him interacting with coaches and players when we were first aware of him," Colbrese said.
Nobody knew where he lived or what he did, Colbrese said. Eventually, he was viewed as an eccentric nuisance who generally bothered staff for jerseys or for a role at games.
Things changed in 2008, when Joel E. Ferris High School of Spokane won that year's state basketball tournament and Colbrese spotted Shayegan hanging around the locker room after the game.
"He was jumping on players' backs after they showered and came out of the locker room," Colbrese said.
It sounds as if he's been attracted to high school basketball players for a while, but that he had to spend about three years working up the courage -- or polishing up his "challenged" water boy schtick -- to escalate his con to where he could get close enough to the young athletes to jump on their backs.
It seems like a lot of people are approaching the "Piggyback Bandit" story as if it's some kind of funny, off-the-wall tale about an extremely eccentric, oddball dude. But in our opinion, it's really a story about some guy who's just a seriously fu**ed up pervert.
This much is certain -- now that Mr. Shayegan's story is known in all 50 states, it's going to be that much more difficult for him to pull off his "Piggyback Bandit" antics at high school basketball games (and to find/maintain gainful employment).
It will be interesting to see if he keeps trying.