Harford hopes to get all rec councils to do background checks, county councilman says

The county's parks and recreation department will continue to encourage recreation councils to do background checks on coaches, after one coach allegedly assaulted a parent during a children's soccer game in Forest Hill, Harford County Council President Billy Boniface said at Tuesday night's council meeting.

Boniface said the coach and parents involved in the Feb. 9 fight were suspended by the Hickory Recreation Council. Currently, however, there are no requirements for background checks, nor does the county have much direct control over the rec councils, the county's parks and recreation director said Thursday.

Councilman Dion Guthrie read a letter during Tuesday's meeting from a witness to the alleged assault, which happened during a soccer game between 7-year-old and 8-year-old boys from Emmorton and Hickory at the Forest Hill/Hickory Activity Center.

"For the last [1 1/2] minutes, the coach of the Hickory team held the ball while talking to his players with the clock running. With four seconds left in the game, he kicked the ball inbounds, thus not allowing the Emmorton team an opportunity to score a tying goal," Guthrie read from the unidentified woman's letter.

"After the game, a discussion between the Hickory coach and the father of an opposing player began and quickly became heated," the letter continued.

"I witnessed the Hickory coach fling his equipment bag to the floor and literally pick up the father and throw him three to four feet against a wall. When the father fell to the floor, the coach viciously began stomping him, while parents and crying children watched in horror and disbelief," the letter said.

The woman said she looked up the coach's criminal record and found he had a record of marijuana possession and a conviction for second-degree assault.

"I thought in this day and age, anyone who would be working with young children would be subject to a criminal background check," the letter concluded.

Guthrie said the incident is "of great concern" to the county council and has been turned over to Sheriff Jesse Bane in hopes he will investigate.

Sheriff's Office spokesman Eddie Hopkins said later Tuesday night that the parties involved were separated by an off-duty sheriff's deputy and no police report was written. As result, none of those involved in the incident have been publicly identified.

"Deputies explained there was some pushing and shoving and loud arguing [which] most likely appeared fairly... intense to onlookers," Hopkins wrote in an e-mail.

The parties were eventually referred to a District Court commissioner; the commissioner of the soccer league also was notified.

Boniface said Parks and Recreation Director Arden McClune said she will work to prevent any similar issues in the future.

"Each rec council is responsible for hiring their coaches and most have signed on for doing background checks," Boniface said. "She is working with them to make it a requirement across the board."

Boniface also said the charges the woman mentioned for the coach were "probation before judgment of a non-guilty charge," so a background check would not necessarily have found those.

Nevertheless, he said, "there are some issues being looked into by parks and rec, but they're right on top of it."

The parks and recreation department has no control over individual recreation councils, which are independent volunteer organizations, McClune said Thursday.

She said the department has been encouraging councils to do background checks for a while.

"This topic has come up frequently for probably the last three or four years," she said. "We have not been in a position to mandate them."

In this incident, McClune noted, Rich Siejack, president of the Hickory-Fountain Green Recreation Council, was in the building, though not in the arena, at the time, and he became aware of the fight.

McClune said she hears a couple of times per season about similar incidents during rec council games, saying such problems are "not frequent."

"In any given sports season, whether it's a coach or parent, whether it's two parents, when someone gets in another person's face, the rec councils handle this," she said.

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