PRB Articles


Beyond Background Checks

When Jerry Sandusky became a household name a few years ago, he swung the spotlight back on a chilling topic that all too often gets shoved to the side because it’s incredibly uncomfortable to talk about.

Child sexual predators continue to operate at ball fields and gyms in communities nationwide, yet some recreation people say they do background checks, and that’s enough when protecting their young participants.

That’s a cop-out in my book. Any pedophile can sneak under the radar if he or she tries hard enough.

Do we need a reminder of the sickos lurking out there? Here is a small sampling of some of the horrific stories that have surfaced in just the past few months:

  • A youth soccer coach in Maryland was arrested on five charges of human trafficking and operating a business of prostitution.
  • In Georgia, a youth baseball coach was arrested for allegedly sending sexually explicit messages to a 14-year-old through social media.
  • A former youth coach in California was arrested after allegedly being caught engaging in a sex act with a 14-year-old boy.
  • In South Florida, a former youth baseball coach faces sexual abuse charges for allegedly molesting 11-year-old boys, in which he gave fun names to specific sex acts he wanted to perform with the boys.

A New Format

Beginning with this issue, I’ll be calling on Certified Youth Sports Administrators from around the country to provide their insight and advice to help enhance youth sports programs. We’ll be tackling issues and dissecting problems that affect all programs, and through the special training these administrators have gone through to earn their CYSA credential, their insights can be the springboard to strengthen your programs.

I checked in with Pat Sebring, Youth Sports Supervisor for Athens-Clarke County (Ga.) Leisure Services and Kristen Maiden, Program Supervisor at the Village of Evendale Recreation Department in Ohio. Here’s what they had to say about protecting kids from sexual predators:

Maiden: I definitely think that in today’s society child predators are a concern that we don’t want to think about, but must. When programs grow too large or just too comfortable, they become vulnerable. This continues to be a problem in some programs because administrators tend to relax after background checks come back “cleared,” so they think all is well. Occasional monitoring of practices—either by administrators or staff members—would show volunteers that they are being held accountable. Talk to the parents and ask for their comments. And end-of-season anonymous evaluations also are helpful.

Sebring: First and foremost, I think the problem of child predators is very serious, and as youth sports professionals we should never let our guard down. Since this is a fairly new subject (meaning we did not routinely talk about this 10 to 20 years ago), most of us still feel people are generally good, especially those who volunteer, and that we can't imagine child predators would be in our program. I am always surprised at the number of stories I read about coaches/volunteers who are arrested, who “seem” to be upstanding citizens. Some of this thinking lies in our naiveté, as well as with the number of child predators who are now being discovered. And this is the reason we should never let our guard down when it comes to thinking it can't happen in our own programs.  

In our program, coaches/volunteers are required to go through a background check (at our expense) before being able to work with kids. We also work with outside groups that use our fields, and we require them to put their coaches/volunteers through a background check. We prefer that outside groups affiliate with national organizations like U.S. Youth Soccer or Little League International, as that provides another layer of requirements, and these groups may cover the cost of some background checks. I do get some pushback from our organizations because the cost of running background checks can get expensive when there are 100+ coaches/volunteers.

Child Protection Tips

“We also have a two-coach (or two-adult) minimum at all of our practices and games,” Maiden says. “No coach should be left alone with kids—this keeps the kids safe and the coaches safe.” 

And since social media are used by predators to connect with kids they are coaching, Sebring shares this gem: “Text messages should be group texts and not individual texts.” Sebring also says that all practices/games should be held in designated public areas, and there should always be a contact person (not a coach/volunteer) to express a concern or file a complaint.  

Do you have something to share on this topic? Email it to editor@northstarpubs.com.

Are you interested in learning more about becoming a Certified Youth Sports Administrator and joining more than 3,000 administrators worldwide who have earned the CYSA designation? Visit www.nays.org/academy

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla. He can be reached via email at fengh@nays.org. To join more than 3,000 communities by starting a NAYS chapter, visit www.nays.org or contact Emmy Martinez at emartinez@nays.org or (800) 729-2057.  

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