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Who is coaching our kids?
By Randy Scott
Story Created: Feb 19, 2008 at 6:38 PM EST
Story Updated: Feb 19, 2008 at 7:50 PM EST
LEE COUNTY, Fla. - Little League Base ball is starting up throughout Southwest Florida, and for parents, a new season brings old fears.
What kind of people are coaching their kids?
"There are people out there that you shouldn't have out there," says Todd Polley, parent of a Cape Coral little-leaguer. "Pedophiles, for one thing. That's the biggest one. Any type of felony record."
These aren't baseless concerns... there are horror stories.
Armand Cotnoir served more than a year in federal prison, but later coached youth football in Plant City.
Lee Arthur Chavis had a lengthy arrest record, but he too was allowed to coach football. He was back in jail two months later, though. Accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl.
"You do see that happening," says Lee County Parks and Recreation's Dave Harner. "And I think that's why Lee County's been proactive in trying to ensure that we have something in place that would hopefully screen out some of these people."
Lee County requires background checks for all youth sports coaches and officials, but the checks are only state-wide. Which means a serious loophole remains.
"If someone's moving here out of state, you're not going to get a background check if you're just doing a Florida background," says Lee County Parks and Recreation's Chris Williams.
"With the number of people coming in, you could get a new coach every season," says Harner. "Someone new is coming in constantly, they're coming in and they're volunteering for sports."
That's the problem, and fingerprinting is the solution.
Under proposed State Bill 344, volunteer youth sports coaches will have their fingerprints taken and run through the FBI's national database.
But this kind of piece of mind comes with a price.
It costs between $50 and $85 for the background check and fingerprinting, so coaches will be volunteering more than just their time.
"Especially now, with the economy the way it is, people are tight financially," says Frank Smith, a roller hockey coach. "It could cost someone the decision to not coach."
Smith coaches a 16-and-under roller hockey team in the San Carlos Park Roller Hockey League, and he coaches because he has kids who play.
But other coaches might shy away from both the cost and the invasion of privacy, which would hurt newer sports.
"Some of the smaller leagues might not be able to, but again, when it comes to the safety of children, I just don't see where it would be an issue for anybody," says Harner.
"It's protecting your kids more than anything else," says Polley. "We're parents, we're all parents. We have to raise our kids, but we all want protection for our kids, too."
"I think the most important thing is to make sure the kids are safe," says Williams. "You can't really put a price on that."
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