Posted: 6:00 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013

Background checks imperative for youth sports programs

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By Rick McCrabb

Directors of area youth sports programs said it’s imperative for background checks to be run on everyone associated with children. They said parents trust their children will be safe while participating in the programs, and it’s the leagues’ responsibility to make sure administrators and coaches have clean criminal records.

A Middletown Journal/Hamilton JournalNews survey of area youth sports associations found that most area programs — as a way to reduce the possibility of having someone with a criminal history coaching children — run thorough background checks. But even the background checks can’t provide a 100-percent protection from someone looking to prey on the finances of or the children involved with these youth organizations.

Recently, Roger L. Fox Jr., 49, an Ohio Little League administrator who lives in Hamilton, was indicted on 14 felony charges of pandering sexually oriented material involving a minor. Fox also is a referee for high school basketball and baseball games. A background check was run on Fox and it came back clean, league officials said.

Two years ago, a former Middletown youth soccer coach and his girlfriend pleaded guilty to having sex with a teenage girl. Randall Bowling, then 34, and Andrea Mytton, then 33, both of Preble County Line Road, pleaded guilty to one count each of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, a third-degree felony in Preble County Common Pleas Court.

The victim said she was pregnant, and Bowling was the father.

Those are two examples of crimes against children, but there also have been numerous crimes associated with youth and high school sports and extra-curricular activities where board members have stolen thousands of dollars from the programs.

When just “one stupid incident” happens, it gives the entire organization — if not all youth programs — a “black eye,” said Ken Beaman, president of the Hamilton Little Blue football association.

Because youth sports directors are concerned that similar incidents may happen in their programs, most require background checks from an independent company be run on all administrators, coaches, volunteers, anyone who’s closely associated with children.

Beaman said about four years ago, the Hamilton Little Blue contracted with a national agency to conduct its background checks. He said the checks are “extremely thorough” and include the person’s criminal record, both locally and nationally.

“Everything you could possibly imagine,” Beaman answered when asked what the background check measures.

“The last thing in the world you want is something bad to happen,” added Beaman, a board member for 13 years and a 30-year veteran of youth football. “We have to protect the kids. We have to be accountable.”

When an applicant is turned down, the association is notified, but not told the reason for the red flag, Beaman said.

West Side Little League president Steve Monnin said everyone who has constant contact with players goes through a background check. He called the checks “a must” because leagues can’t be successful without the confidence of the parents.

“You can’t have the beast out there with the kids,” he said. “You do anything to protect your child.”

Monnin said each background check costs the league about $1.25.

Monnin said he also monitors how many pedophiles live near the baseball park. He insists that the boys restroom door remain open, limiting the possibility that a child could be preyed on by an adult.

“It’s a sick world out there,” he said.

Kathy Stites, a longtime administrator with Middletown Youth Soccer, said she has seen a change in how coaches and their players interact. She said male coaches are more reluctant to hug their female players now than 10 years ago. She has stressed to coaches to never be alone with a player.

“Every move is more guarded,” she said. “You don’t want anyone to get the wrong opinion. They have made it bad for the good people.”

Stites said background checks at Middletown Youth Soccer used to be run every two years, but now they’re annual. The organization contracts with Affinity Sports, a soccer software company based out of California. The company compiles all the data and sends it to a background company, Intellicorp. Natalie Del Francia, regional account manager who handles Ohio soccer teams, called Affinity Sports “a gateway” for the information.

The background checks are a way for parents “to feel good,” Del Francia said.

Stites, board club secretary and tournament director, believes that background checks may also be a way to deter possible coaches, those with a checkered past, from applying.

Hamilton’s Rachel McCoy has a 17-year-old son, who played youth football, and a 10-year-old son who plays basketball, football and baseball. Her youngest son has the same coach for all three sports and spends time one-on-one with the coach. She said her sons have spent the night at the home of the coaches because they have sons on the team, too.

“You grow up with the coaches,” she said. “There is a bond between them.”

She compared coaches to teachers and said both should have to pass background tests because of the substantial time they spend with children.

Ayron Thompson, board president of Middletown Youth Football, said everyone associated with the league must go through an FBI background check, which concentrates on any crimes related to children. He said it’s important to protect children because they’re “vulnerable” and pedophiles can “take advantage” of that.

Thompson, a 1993 Middletown High School graduate, said it’s “very bothersome” when an adult preys on a child.

Rodney Muterspaw, deputy chief of the Middletown Division of Police department, has an interesting perspective because he has served on sports boards and his two children, one a freshman and the other an eighth-grader, participate in extra-curricular activities.

He said organizations should run background checks on every coach, including assistant coaches, and also inquire about them with the local police departments. He warned that some online searches miss local criminal incidents. Muterspaw said years ago, there was a known drug dealer coaching in the Middletown youth football program, and when he was removed from the field, he had drugs on him.

Muterspaw said Middletown youth sports organizations have been plagued by theft from board members.

“When people have access to money, there can be problems,” Muterspaw said. His recommendation to parents and organizations: Accept checks only.

Mike Roe, owner of Kingdom Sports in Franklin, wishes he could run background checks on every person who coaches in the center. But every weekend, Kingdom hosts tournaments, and the checks would be cost prohibitive, he said.

“There’s just not enough money to go around,” he said.

Roe said the Kingdom coaches, those hired by the center, do pass thorough background checks. Still, he admits, there’s no way to create “a foolproof system.”

Instead, he said, the best way to protect kids, is for parents to take a more active role. He encouraged parents to check out the coaches before allowing them to be with their children.

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