Houston – Do you know the people who are coaching your kids? We’ve seen a dizzying number of stories about the adults we trust with our kids being revealed as suspected sexual predators.
“I mean you’re going to be trusting your children with these people you want to know who you’re trusting them with,” said Nancy Hebert, the chief prosecutor at Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.
It’s clear criminals continue to teach youth sports. An independent background checking firm recently found nearly a third of applicants involved with kids teams that use public parks, have criminal records.
An analysis of Background Investigation Bureau (BIB) - NRPA screening determined that: 32% of the searches contained criminal records. Of those, approximately 5% were not eligible for NRPA work. Of the 5% that were denied work, 24% had drug offenses, 23% were theft/larceny or robbery related, 20% had assault or violence-related charges, 18% had DUIs and 3% had sexual-related offenses.
“The first thing you need to do is ask the facility or the agency if they do background checks. hopefully, they do,” Hebert said.
Youth sports organizations that require background checks
Channel 2 Investigates polled dozens of the most popular youth groups, sports leagues and clubs, and found that most perform criminal background checks, but to varying degrees.
YMCA: Background checks required.
Girl Scouts: All volunteers must do a background check.
Boy Scouts: Every registered leader has to undergo a background check.
Soccer Shots: Background checks prior to hiring and background re-checked every 2 years.
Upward Sports: Mandatory background checks.
USA Gymnastics affiliated organizations: All coaches must undergo background checks.
Northwest Aquatic League swimming: All coaches and officials must undergo background checks.
USA Fast Pitch
Pop Warner: Background checks required.
South Texas Youth Soccer Association: All member clubs and associations are required to perform background checks for any adult working with or coaching a child.
TAAF (Texas Amateur Athletic Federation): mandatory checks starting this year. Since January 1st, TAAF has conducted 159 background checks with three failed. In 2019, before mandatory checks, they conducted 800 checks with 12 failed.
NAYS (National Alliance for Youth Sports): "We are set up to do background checks, however, it's up to the Member Organizations that are affiliated with us whether they require background checks with us."
Setting the standard
Westbury Little League, for example, appears to be right on track in this area. They have a dedicated safety officer who not only reviews the background checks of head coaches but all adults who work with the kids in any capacity.
"I actually twice a year handle 150 to 200 background checks for all of the volunteers," said Adam Slater, safety officer for Westbury Little League.
“I think a lot of our success in the safety is with our background checks,” said Aaron Conte, president of Westbury Little League. “Over the last two years, we’ve seen a great increase in the quality of that in the number we’re able to run through. Previous to last year it was a paper form where all the volunteers had to fill in a hard copy and turn it in with all our personal information on it. But last year Little League started partnering with a company called JDP and that enabled an all-online submission by all our volunteers so everyone is a lot more secure and we’ve seen a much greater percentage of participation by our volunteers and it’s keeping our kids safe.”
So how did it work before?
“You’d have a hard copy form and you’d fill out name, address, social security number, turn it into safety officer,” Conte said. “The safety officer inputs it and a check is done.”
“Now a secure link is sent, they input all the information themselves and the company runs the background check through the online submission and we get the results whether it’s flagged or it’s okay,” Conte said.
Sometimes it’s not enough
Sometimes background checks are not enough.
Why? Some of these sex assault suspects have never been in trouble before.
“We find a lot of people we are investigating are first time offenders or at least the first time they are caught,” Hebert said. “So, they don’t have any type of criminal history that makes them a problem.”
One case we have been following involves 46-year-old Juan Manuel Corona. According to the criminal complaint, this trusted, longtime girls softball coach is now accused of plying two teens he coached with alcohol then sexually assaulting one of them at least twice. "Coach Manny" as he's known has no criminal record and no clear red flags. He's someone unremarkable on the outside.
“I would go out walking sometimes and that’s when I would see him,” said former neighbor Henry Cheek. “He seemed to be a nice, I mean I did not know him, literally.”
It seems the players' parents didn't know him either. Most coaches are good but you still need to watch what is going on with your kids. Keeping your eyes on your kids is the ultimate safeguard.
“You not only have to stay with your child, supervising what they’re doing but stay in the moment,” Hebert said. “I do private lessons at my home with my child, it’s at my home but I’m still going to keep my child in my line of sight.”
What parents need to look for
“The best way to keep your kids safe is to actually stay there and be engaged and be in the moment,” Hebert said.
She added, “So many times I’ve done it, you go and drop your kid off for a lesson, gymnastics and you sit up there and you watch your kid doing the gymnastics and the next thing you’re looking at your phone and the next time you look up the kids have gone off into another area. You want to stay in the moment of watching your child.”
“Especially if it’s a contact sport,” Hebert said. “If it’s a contact sport like gymnastics where the coach is going to be flipping the child and possibly have hands-on with the child such as swimming lessons, you are going to want to truly stay in the moment.”
When looking for an organization
“If they won’t do a background check, maybe they also haven’t called to see why that person was shifted from organization to organization because of something that happened at a previous organization,” Hebert said.
If parents can’t go on overnight trips
"They need to employ the buddy system. You have to explain to your child what that means, Hebert said. “That means you do not leave your buddy. Make your child realize how important it is that they are looking out for their friend, and they are looking out for them.”