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Archive for April 26th, 2009

As the Stinson turns, latest edition

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According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Jefferson County school district is investigating allegations of retaliation against Pleasure Ridge Park High football players who spoke to police after last August’s death of teammate Max Gilpin.

Gilpin was the 15-year-old who died a few days after collapsing in practice after Coach David Jason Stinson forced the team to run “gassers” in a heat index of 94 degrees after he was displeased with their effort. Stinson has pleaded not guilty to reckless homicide charges in a rare case of a coach being held criminally liable for an athlete’s death. His trial is scheduled to begin in August. Stinson, as well as the school district and other coaches, is being sued by Gilpin’s parents in a wrongful death case. Stinson is no longer Pleasure Ridge Park’s football coach.

From the C-J:

Superintendent Sheldon Berman said [April 24] that he has asked Joe Burks, assistant superintendent of high schools, to look into the allegations.

Berman said he has not received any complaints but was asked about the matter during a deposition last week in a lawsuit filed by Max’s parents, Michele Crockett and Jeff Gilpin.

“As soon as I got back (to the office), I instructed my staff to investigate,” he said.

If there is retaliation against students, Berman said it would be “completely inappropriate.”

“It should not even be a topic for discussion,” he said. “No student should be harassed in any way for what they told the police.”

The Courier-Journal has received several calls from PRP parents who said their children were being retaliated against because of the statements they gave police. They asked not to be named.

The story doesn’t mention exactly what kind of retaliation is being meted out, and exactly who is meting it out to exactly whom, by name at least.

There also are conflicting statements about whether fundraising for Stinson’s legal defense is happening on school grounds.

Several other parents who have contacted the newspaper said they are concerned that fundraising is being done during school hours to raise money for Stinson’s defense and that their children are being encouraged to wear T-shirts supporting Stinson.

Lauren Roberts, spokeswoman for the district, said yesterday that neither PRP nor the district has received any complaints from parents about fundraising.

[Principal David] Johnson “has advised me that there are no fundraising activities occurring on school property or during school hours,” Roberts said in an e-mail.

She said that earlier in the school year “there was a youth recreation league that sold T-shirts after school in support of the coach, but Mr. Johnson stopped that.”

A criminal coaching your child? More likely than you’d think!

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Sorry to use the TV news sweeps headline. I don’t mean to scare you that every person who might coach your kid is a felon, especially because of the off chance you’re a reader whose kid I coach. But the cost and limited efficacy of criminal background checks means that it’s very possible someone is going to slip through the cracks.

For example, someone like Marlon Rayford Wade II. The Saraland, Ala., Dixie Youth Baseball League coach was arrested April 16 on a charge of cocaine trafficking after police said they found $24,000 worth of those twinkling, twinkling grains in his Mobile home. That’s Mobile, Ala., not Mobile as in double-wide. That arrest is not so much the shocker. After all, if someone has never been arrested, he or she is not going to show up in a background check.

Except two problems here, as highlighted in the Mobile Register. First, Saraland Dixie Youth Baseball, which is affiliated with the city’s recreation department, does not conduct background checks. And even if it did, Wade probably wouldn’t have shown up even though he’s had a few prior arrests.

By a few, I mean 31 in 19 years.

But they were all for misdemeanors, and none involved any harm to a child. (The Mobile Register story doesn’t note how many convictions Wade had.) In most cases, the background checks done by your child’s league are looking for felonies only, and particularly for felonies that involve children or violence in general. And, according to the Register:

Wade had been certified with the National Youth Sports Coaches Association as recently as 2007, according to the group that touts itself as “America’s leading advocate for positive and safe sports and activities for children.”

169095954_ad8fe9ae3bYou have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney. You have a right to coach 8U boys’ soccer if we only find a handful of weed  or you can plead down to disorderly conduct.

You might ask, with good reason, how could someone like this slip through? How could any organization in good conscience let someone like Wade slip through, especially in not paying at all for background checks?

Well, there are a couple of reasons.

The cost issue sounds like a cop-out, but the cost of a basic background check (a search of current name and address against a crime database) can run from anywhere from $1 to $10 per check, assuming the local police aren’t doing them for free. Not per name — per check. So if you’re looking at more than one jurisdiction or coach’s address, that counts as an extra check. It doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up. I could see how organizations that have never had any prior criminal troubles with coaches decide to save a few bucks and cross their fingers.

And for your money, in most cases you’re not getting a guarantee that you’re seeing everything, especially because there are police and courts that don’t contribute to the databases the background check agencies use. They also don’t go back more than the coach’s current address. The background checks are good if you’re trying to prevent someone currently on a sex offender list from coaching, but not wholly effective otherwise.

By the way, it’s stunning how many violent and sexual offenders are still trying to get close to your kids through coaching. The Register reports that Mobile city-run sports uses a background check through the local police that weeds out such offenders — and that the department was sending rejection notices to 30 out of 800 applicants for youth football and basketball coaching positions for failing those checks. Does that number seem high to anyone else?

I noted at the beginning of the month a Denver Post that recommended you play private detective to get more information on coaches. The advice was wholly impractical for parents who have other things to do, like work and raise children. But that doesn’t mean you should completely trust a coach, or ignore the little voice inside that says something is wrong.

If you want quick questions to ask to make sure things are OK, here are two you can ask a league that can go a long way toward determining if everything is on the up-and-up:

— Do you do criminal background checks? (Even a minimal one is better than nothing.)

— Are coaches allowed alone with children? (It’s optimum that there’s an assistant so there are two adults at one time, but you want to know that at least the coach is always with a group of kids, not one-on-one)