Parents And Volunteers Are Game For Youth Coach Background Checks

Mar 27, 2014

Credit Sean Winters

Florida lawmakers are considering a bill that would ensure the coaches and officials of youth athletic leagues undergo a background check. Some say the proposal is a homerun, while others are crying foul.

It’s a Wednesday night and Winthrop Park in Tallahassee is full of parents watching their  9-to-11-year-old sons square off in a little league baseball game.  But when those teams practice, many of the parents aren’t there. That’s why Jessica Bazemore, who’s watching her stepson play ball, says she thinks it’s important to ensure coaches get background checks – and not just coaches, but any adult who could take responsibility for the team.

“I feel better when I am not the coach knowing that the coach has had [a background check.] There are times when parents may stay behind and the coach has to leave and then [others] fill in so they need to have that same screening done,” Bazemore says.

In Tallahassee, the coaches for youth sports teams are already required to submit to background checks. The city picks up the tab for those. Bazemore regularly coaches a soccer team and says she’s never thought twice about having to submit to the screening. While she says it could make some parents hesitant to volunteer, she says that’s not enough reason to skip learning more about them.

“You know, these are parents that are volunteers though, so requiring too many loops for people, or too many hoops for people to jump through, is…you know, you don’t want to scare people away, but if they have nothing to hide, why would they be scared,” Bazemore says.

And over on the practice field Amy McKee—whose husband coaches a team of 6-to-8-year-olds—says she also thinks background checks are important.

“I don’t have a problem with the background forms, filling it out and I would think  parents you now you’re entrusting them and if parents aren’t with the kids, and the kids are at the games  you want to make sure your kids are safe,” McKee says.

But during a Senate floor hearing on the bill Wednesday, Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood) questioned whether the rule goes far enough. Sobel says she’d like to see the state require a more stringent background check. 

“Many of the coaches come from other states who coach our kids. Some of them have sexual predator backgrounds. And I’m wondering  why we have not included those who come from another state and are very close to our kids working very closely with girls and boys why we did not included a level two background check,” Sobel says.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen.  Jeremy Ring (D-Margate), says in recent situations where this problem has arisen it would have been solved by a level one background check. And he says the difference between a level one and a level two background check is more than $75, which would mean more cost for either the coaches or community.  Members of a House Committee also discussed the measure this week. That committee pitched a shutout, approving the bill 18-to-zero.