Who’s coaching your kids?

With summer sporting activities and summer camps gearing up for the busy season, make sure the camps and athletics are doing their due diligence in background checking volunteers and coaches and staff.  See the following article:

Despite a law deterring sex offenders, some area coaches are going unchecked.
Matt Schoch • News-Leader, Springfield, MO • May 15, 2010

Watching her 5-year-old son participate in a Tot Ball practice last week, Brandi Cline said she feels her boys are safe playing sports for the Republic Parks and Recreation Department.

But the Republic resident expressed concern about the organization’s lack of background checks for volunteer coaches.

Cline watched her son and 11 others play tee-ball with 11 adults on the field helping the 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds with guidance.

“I’m surprised about that,” Cline said after learning the city does not check its prospective coaches. “I just assumed they all did that.”

A law signed last year is aimed at deterring convicted sex offenders from getting involved in youth sports. The law provides punishment for offenders but does not require that they be pre-screened by sports organizations. Some area
municipalities do not have mechanisms to pre-approve volunteers.

The law — House Bill 62 — signed by Gov. Jay Nixon in July at the Missouri Highway Patrol’s crime lab in Springfield, went into effect Aug. 28. It features many crime and consumer protection bills.

One section, authored by Rep. Will Kraus, R-Raytown, “prohibits certain sexual offenders from serving as an athletic coach, manager or trainer for any sports team in which a child younger than 17 years of age is a member.”

Since there are no uniform background checks of all sports coaches, Kraus admitted the law relies upon the sex offenders status of a coach to be discovered.

“If someone identifies them as a sex offender, that punishment applies,” Kraus said.

Violation is a Class D felony — punishable by up to four years in prison — for a first offense and a Class C felony — punishable by up to seven years in prison — for a subsequent offense.

Citizens also can be proactive in discovering sex offenders, said Capt. Randy Gibson of the Greene County Sheriff’s Department.

For instance, the Greene County Sheriff’s Department has a sex offender registry map and list on its website. Many other neighboring counties have databases and photographs of registered sex offenders on their websites, as well.

“The information is there at their fingertips if they’ll just take the time and utilize it,” Gibson said. “We’ve spent considerable time and resources getting that website set up.”

Getting on board Kraus noted that all schools and several youth sports programs already require criminal background checks of coaches.

The Springfield-Greene County Park Board was among those organizations that were prepared when the law went into effect. The park board has screened volunteers the past two years to keep criminals away from the public.

Branson performed 134 background checks this year for its growing summer baseball league, she said.

Any person who will be on the field helping a park board team is screened through the Missouri State Highway Patrol Sex Offender Registry and through a search of the state Case.net database.

Also, if coaches want to receive a list of players who are  looking for teams before a season begins, they have to first register as a park board volunteer and be screened.

“We’re strict here,” Adams said. “We’re very strict here.”

Around the area Rogersville Parks and Recreation does not do background checks for its volunteer coaches, but
the city’s Board of Aldermen is considering adding it to this year’s budget beginning July 1, said Randy Schuder, parks director.

That would mean that starting with fall soccer in September, coaches would be screened, he said.

 “Ours is such a small complex and most of the coaches have coached for years here and we know pretty much all of them,” Schuder said. “But it’s better to be safe than sorry. That’s why they’re looking at it.”

Republic’s parks department does background checks for part-time staff but not volunteer coaches.

“Everything we’ve had in place met the standards of the law,” said Jared Keeling, director of the parks and recreation department.

Republic sponsors six youth sports programs: basketball, baseball, softball, football, volleyball and soccer.

Keeling said about 2,000 children participate in the summer baseball and softball leagues.

Scott Parson, recreation manager for Nixa Parks and Recreation, said volunteer coaches in city recreation programs have undergone background checks for about five years.

The checks, done through the human resources department, include a run through the Missouri State Highway Patrol sex offenders registry, he said.

Parson said about three or four applicants have been denied coaching positions because of the checks. He would not disclose the reasons, only that the results precluded them from coaching kids.  Lake Country Soccer, which oversees several youth soccer teams, has been putting referees and coaches — paid and volunteer — through background checks for about 15 years, executive director Kelly Ross said.

He said about 300 coaches and 250 referees are checked yearly by the Missouri Youth Soccer Association.

Jonothon Marquez, director of the growing Magic Soccer Club in Springfield, said he also relies on MYSA for his background checks.

Marquez, who recruits some foreign coaches familiar with South American-style soccer, also does some checking himself.

“We check that they go to school and are working, where they are living and what type of life they are living,” Marquez said. “We check their environment.”

Similar checks are performed by USA Swimming, which certifies coaches with background checks, and first-aid, safety and CPR training.

Brian Reynolds, head coach of Drury University’s swimming and diving team and coach with the youth Springfield Aquatics Swim Club, said the team has five coaches, all of whom were certified before coaching.

In light of recent lawsuits nationally alleging sex abuse by coaches, USA Swimming leaders adopted proposals this month designed to protect young athletes from abuse.

Board members voted to authorize the start-up of a hotline and counseling service, and to create staff positions to focus on athlete protection.

They also voted to create an athlete protection committee with experts from both inside and outside the sport, and to publish a list of coaches banned for life by USA Swimming.

Julie Eaton, marketing director for the Ozarks Regional YMCA, said the organization has been doing background checks on its volunteers for more than a decade.

The YMCA currently uses LexisNexis, a subscription-based service, for its screenings.

After HB 62 was passed, the Missouri Amateur Softball Association declared one coach per team needed to be certified through the ACE program — a basic coaching tutorial, which includes a background check.

This year, state commissioner Joey Rich said, everyone on the field or in the dugout for a team at games and practices needs to have background checks.

Springfield’s Beth Jones, who’s coaching softball under the park board for the first time this year, said she’s more comfortable around families who know she has been vetted.

“It should make them feel a little more secure,” said Jones, coach of the Pink Panthers 10-and-under team, “especially if they have to drop them off at practice for an hour-and-a-half.”

Chad Livengood contributed to this report.