The ticket taker at St. Cloud Cathedral High School in Minnesota recognized Sherwin Shayegan the moment he walked in the door of the gymnasium and alerted Principal Mike Mullin, who quickly gathered up a half-dozen others.
Shayegan had taken his spot in the bleachers and was watching the game, taking notes in a little green book, when Mullin’s crew approached.
“I’m sorry, sir,” the principal said. “We’re going to have to ask you to leave.”
The Piggyback Bandit was thwarted. Not in St. Cloud would he sneak up behind an unsuspecting student athlete and hoist his 240-pound frame upon his back. Not here would he pose as a water boy or offer a bribe. Shayegan’s antics are beginning to earn him nationwide notoriety, and he’s now banned from high school athletic events in at least five states, whether he ever attended a game there or not. High school sports administrators have finally figured out that the best way to stop the Piggyback Bandit is to head him off at the pass.
Shayegan, 28, earned this strange nickname after a bizarre spree in Oregon and Washington that began four years ago, if not earlier. The Bothell, Washington, resident started showing up at high school sporting events, typically basketball, where he would infiltrate the team, sometimes playing water boy, other times just relying on enough commotion to find an old uniform somewhere and slip into it.
A 2010 press release issued by the Oregon School Activities Association said that Shayegan “was seen last month at OSAA basketball tournaments in Pendleton, Corvallis, and Eugene. At one of those tournaments, he made his way into one of the team’s locker rooms without authorization and sought autographs from team members and photographs.”
An image from a security camera showing Sherwin Shayegan, dubbed the Piggyback Bandit, at Century High School in Bismarck, N.D. on Feb 4. Shayegan crashed school sporting events in at least five states from Washington to Minnesota, in some cases coaxing players to give him a piggyback ride.
Then, at just the right moment, the Bandit struck, leaping onto the backs of athletes without warning. Or, sometimes, with a warning. Maybe even a polite request, or an offer of money, water, or Gatorade.
“He may try to wear the apparel of that school,” the Oregon release warned.
It wasn’t long before Shayegan wound up in handcuffs—and in newspapers—although police must have had an interesting discussion about how to charge him. Is there a law against unsolicited piggyback rides?
Assault, was what the cops came up with, and it’s what Shayegan has been charged with in at least two different cases, adding to a rap sheet that includes felony burglary and theft, 23 trespass convictions, criminal impersonation, and drug possession.
But the Piggyback Bandit keeps making bail and keeps finding new ways to commit his “crimes.” He’s gone national now, spotted in Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota. There’s no telling where he’ll turn up next.
“When someone that weighs 240 pounds and jumps on the back of a high school student, the potential is there for significant damage,” said David Stead, executive director of the Minnesota State High School League, in one of the five states where Shayegan is persona non grata. Otherwise, “he seems to be somewhat innocent.”
Minnesota was the Bandit’s last sighting, at the Cathedral game. And the weird thing about it—one of the weird things about it, anyway —was that he called ahead. Stead got a phone call from Shayegan on Feb. 10, he told The Daily Beast. Like just about every high school sports director in the country by now, Stead didn’t need an introduction to Shayegan to know who he was talking to.
“I know my reputation is something that’s kind of difficult for me,” Shayegan told Stead. Then he politely asked if he was banned from games in Minnesota. Stead said he is. “He said he didn’t mean to cause any problems. He just liked to do piggyback rides.”
The conversation didn’t stop Shayegan from showing up in St. Cloud later that day—he apparently called from the bus—and he didn’t do anything to disguise himself at the game, which makes you wonder why he even bothered to check on whether he’d be allowed there.
Of course, there are more pressing questions. Why piggyback rides? Is Shayegan mentally ill or just an annoying eccentric, with too much time and a trust fund on his hands?
Shayegan’s now-defunct Facebook page read, “Give me a piggyback ride!” and that he wants to meet “good looking boys. Preferably at libraries when no one else is around.”
At a Feb. 1 hearing in Helena, Montana, Shayegan offered this as explanation as he pleaded guilty to two charges of misdemeanor assault, after jumping on two players at a state high school soccer tournament last October: “I made a mistake,” Shayegan said to Municipal Court Judge Bob Wood. “I was just trying to be funny and get a piggyback ride.”
‘When someone that weighs 240 pounds and jumps on the back of a high school student, the potential is there for significant damage.’
The judge didn’t see the humor in it.
“Go back to Seattle,” Wood said, after fining Shayegan $730 and issuing a 360-day suspended jail sentence. “And behave.”
But Shayegan’s also been described by people who went to high school with him as “developmentally delayed,” and by others who’ve known him for some time as “smart, knowing exactly what to say and when to say it” to avoid having his confrontations get more serious.
No one seems to have a definitive answer about what exactly makes the Piggyback Bandit tick, though an Associated Press reporter tracked down someone who’s known Shayegan for several years for a recent story that shed a little insight. Seattle resident Paul Huenefeldt told the Associated Press that he has been a friend of Shayegan’s for 20 years, that he’s obsessive, has emotional problems, and that he’s never really fit in. Shayegan’s mother and grandmother live near Seattle, Huenefeldt said, and his brother is an Army pediatrician stationed in Missouri.
Shayegan’s father returned to his native Iran when he was still a child, and Shayegan has since been adrift and in search of a father figure, Huenefeldt said.
“He does not have a place to turn,” Huenefeldt said. “He is one of these individuals living on the sidelines of society.”
One thing is clear, though: Sherwin Shayegan is not welcome at high school sporting events in Minnesota—whether he calls ahead or not.
“He was a little surprised at first, like, why would we be asking him to leave, when he just got there? It just took a beat or two, and he must have realized we knew who he was,” Mullin said. “We had no reason to think there was any real cause for concern—beyond that we would just as soon not have him at our basketball game.”