While the focus has often been on coaches of youth sports when it comes to ensuring they are screened with vigorous background checks, other job functions have often slipped through the cracks. In Massachusetts, youth sports referees and umpires will now be subject to screenings for criminal records. The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), which governs interscholastic athletics for 374 schools in the commonwealth, recently held a board of directors meeting at which it was unanimously decided to proceed with the new rule. Supporters call the ruling one of last gaps in protecting students from school workers.
The ruling is likely due to recent unflattering press coverage. In the late December, the Boston Globe published an expose of a convicted child molester working as a high school basketball referee. A review of state court records by the Globe found a total of at least eight school referees who had been convicted of serious crimes —from distributing narcotics in a school zone and illegal gun possession to larceny, embezzlement and gambling. At the time the story was published, the newspaper noted Massachusetts was lagging behind many other states when it came to ensuring the safety of student athletes.
In addition, the MIAA was about to be compelled legislatively to make the move: Massachusetts State Representative Carole Fiola had already filed legislation aimed at compelling the association to perform background checks on all game officials. For its part, the MIAA said that it had already been studying the issue with an intent to take action when the Globe story broke and Fiola filed legislation.
“This is a big step in terms of becoming more actively engaged with a group of people who have been working with our kids,’’ said Richard Pearson, the MIAA’s associate executive director, who oversaw the initiative.
Massachusetts now becomes the 28th U.S. state to mandate criminal background checks for school sports officials. Each official who works in the state will now be checked for a criminal history before the spring of 2016. According to the Boston Globe, not all of the state’s referees are supportive of the program, however.
“The state’s referees have been widely divided over the issue, with many supporting background checks to beef up student safety, and many others saying the checks would be an unnecessary and costly nuisance,” wrote the Globe’s Bob Hohler.
The state’s approximately 8,000 certified athletic officials will pay for their own screenings. The cost has been estimated to run between $35 and $40 per check.