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Lack of money is main reason youth teams fail to do background checks

The Baltimore Sun

The gun charge lodged against Baltimore youth football coach Aaron McCown came as organizations in Maryland and across the country were adopting new measures to prevent misbehavior by coaches and parents during games.

Last fall, the Maryland State Youth Soccer Association began requiring more than a thousand coaches to be licensed. At a minimum, they must complete an 18-hour training course.

On Oct. 12, Baltimore's Parks Department announced guidelines under which verbal or physical abuse of officials, coaches or players could lead to lengthy bans. "Adults just get too caught up in the winning," Bob Wall, chief of youth and adult sports, said at the time.

Leagues around the country - from a San Diego-area Pop Warner football program to a Nebraska ice hockey association - are adopting zero-tolerance policies in which teams can be penalized for coaches' or parents' misbehavior.

Increasingly, youth leagues are also emphasizing background checks for their coaches and coach candidates.

McCown's team, the Old Town Gators, said they could afford only cursory background checks costing $1.50 per coach. The checks screened primarily for sex offenses and didn't flag McCown's assault conviction 10 years ago.

He also has a 2006 conviction for possession with intent to distribute heroin, and he now faces a federal gun charge after a referee said he was threatened at a September game.

It's uncertain what percentage of youth football organizations require coaches' background screening.

In June, Virginia-based USA Football, which promotes the sport, began subsidizing checks that look not only for sex crimes, but also for felonies and lesser crimes involving force. As of the fall, 4 percent of those checks had uncovered crimes.

Money is the biggest barrier to conducting checks, said USA Football spokesman Steve Alic.

"These are nonprofit organizations. There may be some hard decisions they have to make between outfitting players with new shoulder pads or helmets" or paying for thorough background checks, Alic said.

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