Weeks after the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) dismissed a high school referee for not disclosing criminal information on his application, the Association moved to require background checks for all officials before they can call a game. The more aggressive stance comes after it was discovered the fired referee had previously pleaded no contest in 2007 to attempted statutory rape and aggravated criminal trespassing.

The New Policy

People who want to officiate must now pass a national background check through the organization’s online registration system, and the background check will be performed annually. This all has to happen before someone can even register with the TSSAA, and certainly, before they can step onto a field with children.

The TSSAA will track applicants through a web-based portal that also operates a screening program. The checks will cost roughly $10. Applicants will have to pay for their own checks and will have to be re-screened annually to keep their accreditation with the league. The background check covers multiple sports, though, so once a ref has passed the background check he or she is cleared to ref any sport throughout the school year.

Why Did It Take So Long?

The changes to the TSSAA policy have apparently been a long time coming. This newspaper article reports that, “A recent background check of athletic officials performed by Williamson County Schools revealed that 21 of the roughly 200 referees checked had questionable backgrounds, including criminal charges ranging from statutory rape, prostitution and drug charges.”

The latest incident only sparked more outrage that background checks weren’t already happening. As previously reported on Protect Youth Sports – an Active Screening company – the TSSAA  said it hadn’t already implemented referee screening because:

One) The TSSAA claimed it was concerned about finding an appropriate agency to conduct the checks.

Two) There is a discrepancy between who, actually, employs the referees, and therefore, who, ultimately, is responsible for conducting background checks. The TSSAA claims since the school district pays the referees, the district is actually the one employing them.

As to why they wanted to take their time before requiring background checks, the TSSAA Executive Director said: “We knew that we had to do our due diligence in making sure that we got the very best system in place for the number of individuals that we’ve got to do background checks on. We’re not dealing with 200 people, we’re dealing with 4,500 a year. We wanted to make sure we had something that was not a statewide check, but a nationwide check and something that was easy for us to implement.”

What’s the Takeaway?

The most important thing to remember in this entire conversation is that background checks are designed to protect our children from predators. High school athletes are children. Organizations should do whatever it takes to vet employees before allowing them to interact with our children.

Other youth sports organizations who may be exploring implementing background checks need to know a couple of things.

First, there are many reputable, accredited screening agencies in our industry. A great place to look is the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), of which Protect Youth Sports – an Active Screening company – is an accredited member. To become an accredited member, you must pass a detailed examination of your screening practices, and meet an incredible number of industry standards, including compliance and understanding of local, regional, and federal law. Not every screening company gets to join NAPBS’s ranks, it really is the most elite screening agencies in the nation.

Additionally, Protect Youth Sports – an Active Screening company – is specifically designed to meet the unique needs of a youth sports organization. No one understands the nuances, constraints, and details of operating a youth sports program like Protect Youth Sports, and no one can deliver the youth sports-specific screening solutions like Protect Youth Sports. It’s one of the reasons why premiere youth sports leagues and interest groups like the National Alliance for Youth Sports, Amateur Softball Association of America, Inc., USA Softball, and The American Legion have chosen to partner with Protect Youth Sports.

Second, passing the buck on who is responsible for protecting our children is irresponsible. We all need to be invested in that effort. Our team is always willing to listen to youth sports programs and school districts who are trying to figure out who should be conducting background checks. We can talk terminology, pricing, online portals, and child safety training to make sure everyone is armed with the same knowledge.

Simply put, it shouldn’t take a crisis for a youth sports league to commit to background checks. When used appropriately, background checks are the best pro-active tool youth sports programs can employ to help keep their kids, staffers and volunteers safe. Bravo to the TSSAA for finally taking this step. Other programs shouldn’t wait so long, though. Give one of our Active Screening team members a call today at 1-800-319-5580.

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