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News Maryland Baltimore Crime Beat

Organizations join to stop child sexual abuse in sports

Following a string of recent cases in which coaches used their positions to sexually abuse children, the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation says it is trying to help sports organizations better screen people who work with young athletes.

The foundation has created an online resource that offers training for employees and volunteers. The site also directs sports organization leaders to a legal research website where they can search potential staff members' criminal histories at a minimal cost.

"Most organizations serving kids do the bare minimum to protect them" because they feel overwhelmed just managing their day-to-day operations, and screening volunteers can be expensive, said Steve Salem, CEO of the foundation.

The online resource is one step the foundation has taken to help end abuse amid growing concerns about sexual abuse in the sports realm. Next week, the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation is partnering with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to hold a summit about child sexual abuse in sports.

Event organizers saw a need for a conference after the sexual abuse scandal surrounding Jerry Sandusky and the Pennsylvania State University football program.

"Although this was a wake-up call for many in America to learn about the scope and type of abuse children encounter in youth sports activities, it was an issue we were very familiar with and that our staff, frankly, deals with every day," said John Ryan, CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Maryland has also seen recent cases of alleged child sexual abuse in sports. In October 2011, a coach with Michael Phelps' former swim club, the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, resigned following allegations of inappropriate conduct with a female swimmer in 1975.

A year later, Rick Curl, who founded the Washington Curl-Burke Swim Club, turned himself in to Montgomery County police on a charge of abusing one of his students in the 1980s. Curl pleaded guilty in February to one count of child sexual abuse and faces up to 15 years in prison.

In September 2012, ice dancer and coach Genrikh Sretenski was arrested in Howard County on New York charges of sexual abuse and endangering a child. He was released from jail a few days later on the condition he turn himself in to New York police.

Ryan said there's no data tracking the scope of child sexual abuse as it relates to sports but said the center's tip line has received about 1.8 million reports of children being exploited since 1998.

Joe Ehrmann, a former NFL defensive lineman who is speaking at the summit, said sports has paved the way for social change before with issues such as segregation and women's rights and that it could do the same for child sexual abuse.

"I think this could be a pivotal moment in the history of youth sports," he said.

amatas@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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