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Old 10-31-2007, 04:09 PM   #1
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Who's your kids' coach?
Some youth programs check sex offender registries but let other offenses slide.
By LIBBY NELSON, Times Staff Writer
Published October 30, 2007


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ST. PETERSBURG - Three evenings a week, four coaches for the Azalea Bulldogs football program teach youths ages 7 to 14 to block and pass. Whistles around their necks, they demonstrate technique, make out plays, encourage young minds.

Among them, they have 45 arrests.

Their records include cocaine sales, weapons offenses and prison time.

"We're supposed to be setting examples and being good mentors," said Sally Johnson, executive director of the National Council of Youth Sports. "You want to be certain that we're being responsible and that your children are in the care of upstanding citizens."

The coaches have slipped through a loophole that legislators, advocacy groups and other counties are trying to close.

The only criminal background check required of the Bulldogs and the 10 other programs in the Suncoast Youth Football Conference is a search of the sex offender registry.

"What we're looking for is criminal sexual offenders and child pedophiles," said conference president Lenny Anderson.

The conference declined to provide information about coaches. But background checks on more than half the coaches in the conference revealed no records comparable to Azalea's.

The coaches are not without their supporters.

"I'm very careful," said Kim Walter, president of the Azalea Bulldogs division, who knows the coaches' stories but believes they are a positive influence. "I'm not a cop. I try to be trusting."

'Very good people'

The coaches are volunteers. From August to November, they give their teams three evenings a week and most of Saturday.

Finding people willing to make that commitment can be challenging, and the Bulldogs are not the first to see coaches' records catch up with them.

Last year, Hillsborough County removed a youth football coach who had been convicted on corruption charges, only to have him reinstated by a committee of volunteers. The county since has clarified its policy to exclude anyone convicted of felonies within the past eight years.

Under those guidelines, three of the four Azalea coaches would have been ineligible to coach.

The Azalea division includes 11 head coaches instructing 400 young players who make up 10 teams, categorized by age, weight and ability. The Bulldogs' parent organization, the Suncoast Youth Football Conference, has 11 such divisions in Pinellas County.

The conference requires coaches to list their records, but it also searches a state sex offender registry for their names. The registry would have given no hint of the four Azalea coaches' criminal histories.

Adrian Monroe was sentenced to three years in prison in 1997 for cocaine trafficking, possession of marijuana and carrying a concealed weapon.

He was released in 2000. In 2002, Monroe became an assistant coach.

Monroe, now a head coach, has not discussed his record with players or parents.

Monroe said he filled out his background form honestly when he volunteered but didn't expect his record to be a problem.

He was arrested 12 times in 11 years, between 1992 and 2003, but most charges are almost a decade old. Domestic violence charges in 2003 were dropped.

"They're looking for sexual predators, stuff like that," Monroe said.

Other coaches moved even more quickly from prison or probation to the playing field.

Charles Price was arrested for selling cocaine in 2002 and sentenced in May 2003 to three years' probation.

Three years and three months later, he was an assistant coach.

Price is an assistant to Brian Dozier, who has 14 arrests, most for driving with a suspended license. As a habitual offender, Dozier was sentenced to a year in jail in 2003. Now he's back on the practice field.

Head coach Aundre Stevens also had a speedy turnabout.

He pled guilty in 2003 to possession of cocaine and was put on probation. He began coaching in 2006, the same year he was convicted of grand theft and larceny for writing a bad check.

Not every criminal offense should eliminate someone from coaching, Azalea Bulldogs president Walter said.

"Driving with a suspended license -- that's not going to keep a coach off my field," Walter said. "Being arrested eight, nine, 10 years ago, that's not either. Two years ago? Maybe."

She said she believes people can turn their lives around -- and that these coaches have.

"I just think they really are positive role models for these kids," Walter said. "They really are very good people."

Legislation planned

Cases such as Azalea's have made thorough background checks more common among youth sports organizations.

But many organizations only consult the state's sex offender registry, which is free and addresses parents' fears about sexual predators near children.

In the spring 2008 legislative session, legislators will vote on whether that's good enough.

"It's a loophole left out there for unsavory people to get near our children," said Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, who is proposing a bill requiring comprehensive background checks. "What if your coach was busted for selling crack cocaine a month ago? There's a lot of criminal activity that parents need to be concerned about."

Ring's bill does not specify what offenses would disqualify a coach. If it passes in the Legislature's spring session, background check requirements would go into effect in June 2008.

Some organizations support an even tougher line.

The National Council of Youth Sports' guidelines advise leagues to disqualify coaches who have been convicted of any felony punishable by a year or more in prison, and any coaches convicted of a drug crime. Under those rules, none of the four Azalea coaches would be on the field.

In Hillsborough, the county imposes guidelines that often go beyond those required by youth organizations, just to ensure no one slips through the cracks. Pinellas County does not have a similar backstop. Neither do Pinellas public schools and the city of St. Petersburg.

For example, Azalea players practice on Pinellas school property, but the schools defer to the city, which requires only a sex offender registry check, said spokesman Paul Whitehouse.More comprehensive background checks are too expensive, he said.

That notion is commonly held, but some groups are working to bring down the price. A criminal history from the state costs $23. USA Football, a nonprofit supporting amateur football, subsidizes background checks for $15 per coach.

Though the checks are aimed at catching sex offenders, they also screen for all other offenses. John Brill, spokesman for Hillsborough Parks, Recreation and Conservation, supports thorough background checks. "We don't run the league, but they are on our property," he said. "We're held accountable in everybody's eyes."
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45 criminal offenses? Coaching youths? Good idea? Bad idea?
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Old 10-31-2007, 07:50 PM   #2
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I can't speak for the kinda leagues described in the article but in the state of Ohio you have to pass an extensive background check to be a teacher as well as a coach (even volunteers) within the school system.

Still, we've had people slip thru the cracks here. I'm not sure how though. I have to get my fingerprints taken and do the background check every August.
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Old 10-31-2007, 08:47 PM   #3
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Who better to teach the young lads the ins & outs of life than experienced criminals???
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Old 11-01-2007, 10:14 AM   #4
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Background checks are critical this day and time.
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Old 11-02-2007, 02:29 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by buckeyefan78 View Post
Still, we've had people slip thru the cracks here. I'm not sure how though. I have to get my fingerprints taken and do the background check every August.
What's your secret to avoiding detection buck?
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Old 11-04-2007, 02:48 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by da12ken View Post
What's your secret to avoiding detection buck?
I don't know how I slip thru each year. Probably some of my former students running the show down in Columbus. They would screw up a one-car funeral.
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Old 11-04-2007, 02:54 PM   #7
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Turns out the league banned the kid whose mom blew the whistle. Pretty mature move. :thumbdown:
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Old 11-06-2007, 11:08 AM   #8
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But to be honest my background is nothing pretty.
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