Illinois

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Illinois Implementing Background Checks for High School Officials

29 May, 2019

By: Michael Popke

Finding enough referees and umpires for high school sporting events already is a challenging task for athletics administrators.

The Illinois High School Association might have made the process even tougher with its recent decision to conduct background checks as part of the registration process for officials, beginning with the 2019-20 school year. But the move also indicates how serious the association is about safety.

“The background check is important for the peace of mind of everyone involved in a high school sporting event in Illinois,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson saidin a statement. “It is something we have studied closely the past few years and believe adds an extra level of safety for officials, schools, student-athletes and coaches.”

The IHSA will partner with Utah-based company called Peopletrail to conduct the background checks; subsequently, to cover the cost of the checks, the state association will increase the fees for obtaining or renewing an officiating license from $50 to $70 for a single sport or first sports licensure. Increases also will be implemented for multiple sports.

According to the Chicago Tribune:

Sam Knox, assistant executive director for the IHSA, said that for many years, referees were simply asked on their IHSA application: “Have you been convicted of a felony, yes or no?” In recent years, the IHSA has cross-referenced its list of referees with the Illinois State Police criminal database.

But in 2017, a former IHSA referee, who had worked basketball and baseball games near the Illinois-Missouri state line, was sentenced to three years in prison for failing to register as a child sex offender.

The incident, which made headlines, prompted then-state Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton, to introduce a house bill requiring high school sports officials to undergo background checks. The bill never went to vote.

Knox said the IHSA’s decision to require background checks was not a direct reaction to any one incident or piece of legislation. Instead, Knox said the organization “just knew it was the right time.”

“We’ve got 12,000 officials statewide, and we know a large majority of them have nothing in their background to prevent them from officiating,” Knox said. “But to have that extra step of security is something our schools will be grateful for, knowing the official coming to work those games deserves to be there.”

IHSA officials added that more state high school associations are running background checks on officials while also finding creative ways to attract newcomers to the job.

“[Most referees] aren’t in it for the almighty dollar,” Marty O’Leary, a 22-year high school sports officiating veteran of multiple sports, told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s supplemental income, a part-time job. Most are in it because they really love the sports, love to be part of the kids’ [experience]. That’s why I do it. I love to give back. It’s for many of the same reasons people coach.”

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