Remember where you were when Subway spokesman Jared Fogle was arrested on child porn charges in July 2015? I do. I saw it on my phone at a youth soccer game. I immediately remembered two statistics: the average “seducer” molester victimizes 120 kids before he is caught, and for every serious incident reported, 10 go unreported. Fogle came up again in June 2016, when a judge denied his argument that he was innocent because all he did was watch child porn supplied by the executive director of his foundation. Yeah, Jared, you HIRED the executive director.
Remember the first time you heard about a big youth league theft? I do. I was fifteen, and it was the Little League in my home town, Carmel, California. Someone endangered the season by stealing $3,000 (it was 1974…$3,000 was big money then). There have been tens of thousands of youth league thefts since then.
What can you do to prevent your league from Jared’s and thieves? Background screening is a great start. Because screening data availability from federal and state databases has improved so much in the past five years, you can significantly cut your league’s risks by screening folks who haven’t been previously screened.
While screening is now better and faster, it’s still politically complicated. You’re screening your friends and neighbors. Sure, if you find a serial check-thief or a convicted sex offender, you saved your league from near-certain victimization. But what if what you discover is merely cringe-producing, like a missed child support payment or a personal bankruptcy or a 10-year-old drunk driving conviction? How does your league draw the line, and what do you do with the information? After all, there is always the threat that by leaking something embarrassing, the league could get sued. (Although league Directors and Officers insurance coverage, aka “D&O,” often covers lawsuit costs.)
And youth league volunteer screening is pricey, from $9 to $35 each time you pull a report. That means that if you have 250 coaches and a board of 20, that’s going to run you somewhere between $2,430 and $9,450. That’s the cost of several teams’ tournament entry fees, travel to those away games, or replacement of old equipment that’s damaged and dangerous.
So what’s the best practice for youth league background checking? Here is your 2-point short course.
1. Have your league decide to screen volunteers of certain types, including your board, once, then again at least annually for newcomers. Then, follow two basic rules: First, disclose to everyone (on you website, for example) that you screen volunteers, and the offenses or findings that would disqualify an applicant or current volunteer. Second, collect the minimum amount of information necessary to accomplish the goal, and don’t keep the info around so it can be accidentally released.
2. Pick a background screening company. Starting August, 2016, on the LeagueNetwork.com Buyer’s Guide, you can pick from several dozen screening companies who serve youth leagues and volunteer organizations. In the meantime, check the National Association of Background Screeners, www.napbs.com. Stick with companies that confirm to the Fair Credit Reporting Act or FCRA, and who do both federal and local (at least state-level) checks. The services that may be satisfactory for your league offer “minimalist” screens, and example of which is the “red,” “green” scale. While not giving you the specific reason for the designation, these scales allow you to set the “red” level, or what is “unacceptable” for your league, such as a conviction for sexual molestation or financial theft or violence against a sports official. “Acceptable” or “green” would be everything else, the specifics of which are not shown on the reports to protect you and your league from inadvertent disclosure.
Youth sports leagues are an $11 billion business. And stealing from our leagues has become an epidemic. Want proof? Google search “youth sports financial theft.” You’ll get about 6,130,000 results. Go to NYTimes.com and search for reporter Bill Pennington’s brilliant 3-article series this July on the youth league theft epidemic.
Or travel to Dakota County (MN) and see County Attorney James Backstrom. He will tell you that between 2009 and 2014, his office has prosecuted six youth sports financial embezzlement, fraud and theft cases. Most recently, he tried Rosemount Area Athletic Association finance manager Robert Reischauer who stole $113,000.
Go to a parent of the 300 football players and cheerleaders in the Vista, California Pop Warner and ask about Rachel Marie Owens. Hear how, in 2015, the cheerleaders had to borrow money to attend a championship because Owens, the volunteer treasurer and a local math teacher, stole $100,000.
Or ask a parent in the Diablo Valley Football Conference (California) about their 64 year old treasurer Lynwood Peyton who in April 2016 was arrested for stealing $200,000.
Or a parent in the Pentucket (Massachusetts) youth football league about 54 year old treasurer James Potenza who stole $80,000.
Or a member of the Appleton (Wisconsin) youth baseball league about 41 year old trustee Rodney K. Schreiber Jr., who stole $14,000 to feed his gambling addiction by using the league’s ATM card at a casino.
All these are among the 1,100 or so youth league officials who have gone to jail for theft since 2009. Know how many of the 100+ governing bodies in the top 21 team sports can say that their members have never experienced a financial theft or fraud? Answer: Zero.
The most common answer to why people steal from youth leagues? Because it’s too easy.
Most thefts happen via one of three methods: i) stealing registration fee cash or checks, ii) unauthorized use of an ATM card, or iii) writing of checks on league accounts that only require one signer. The good news? You can immediately do three things to help theft-proof your league.
Step 1, if you now take cash and checks for registration fees, stop. Use an online League Management System (or LMS) for electronic registrations. To pick one, check out our feature on page 40 ranking the LN Top Ten LMS systems. Ask the trustees of any league who have replaced cash and checks with an all-online registration system how much their receipts increased year-over-year. The most common answer is 5% to 7%, which more than covers the cost of the LMS.
Step 2, cancel all league ATM cards. Or if you really do need an ATM card, set one up at a bank other than your primary bank, or buy prepaid cards, and only fund the card with $500 at a time.
Step 3, require two signatures on checks over a certain amount, usually $50 or $100.
The theft epidemic also has volunteers and sponsors freaked out about backing youth leagues. The antidote? Transparency. Go to a website called Guidestar, one of the major charity watchdogs that tracks nonprofits. Sign up for free to access the 990 form, your non-profit’s tax form. Go to “Advanced search.” Put in your league’s name, or your league’s governing authority, Little League or Pop Warner or PAL, plus city and the state. Click on 990 to find your league. Lots to see here, including number of kids participating, revenues, expenses. Make the link to your league’s 990 available online, or forward it to people you are recruiting as proof that your league’s finances are well-managed.
What happens when big insurers like AIG cut off the NFL and Pop Warner? In June, 2016, the New York Post reported the $61 billion insurance giant AIG dumped the NFL, saying it would not write any more policies. Clearly, AIG is trying to avoid any part of the $1+ billion lawsuit liability from the players suing the NFL for knowingly withholding what it knew about the damaging effects of head trauma. AIG wants to force the NFL to pay the bill, and not have to share the tab. Strangely, while maintaining its coverage for USA Football’s Heads-Up Football program and its 2016 Protection Tour for 7- to 14-year-old players, AIG also pulled its coverage for Pop Warner, which is not, as far as we know, facing a huge NFL-type lawsuit from former players.
What’s going on? Is AIG’s action “concussion-omics,” a tactic to avoid the liability associated with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) by claiming it would never have covered the NFL if it knew what the NFL knew about CTE? After all, AIG’s competitor Aon, through its subsidiary K&K Insurance, seems to be comfortable with the risk. As soon as AIG bowed out, K&K rushed in to provide Pop Warner up to $2 million policies, including coverage for head trauma.
Should you be worried if you are buying insurance for girls’ soccer, since there is some evidence that concussion levels there are as high as tackle football? Our how about girls’ lacrosse, which starting next year will require headgear because there have been many reported concussions? Or baseball, where pitchers and batters regularly get beaned?
The short answer is: yes. Truth is, insurance companies make money when premiums exceed overhead and payouts. And payouts come in several flavors. One flavor is legitimate claims, such as when someone holding a life insurance policy dies. Another is fraud, as in when someone fakes a car accident to get the insurance payment. And yet another is the cost to defend lawsuits, which come in far greater numbers when public outrage about a topic rises—exactly what is happening now with CTE and “concussion-omics.”
As a youth league manager, you are spending somewhere between 5% and 9% of your annual budget on insurance premiums. If you are like most, you have four types of coverage: i) accident to pay medical bills for injuries, ii) general liability to cover lawsuits and property damage, iii) Director & Officers (aka D&O) to cover mismanagement, and iv) crime to cover embezzlement or theft.
Chances are that you are buying 40% or more of your insurance coverage through one of the national governing body (NGB) plans, such as those offered by AYSO or Little League. As a rule, the insurers and brokers selling the NGB policies are paying the NGB, which, like AARP, often earn more on insurance fees than they do from membership dues. But if you are a larger or multi-sport league, you may also have one or more policies from a broker such as K&K or Sadler or another company such as Philadelphia Insurance. While pricing is now often “banded” by sport and priced on a per-participant basis, buying youth sports league coverage is still pretty complicated. Unfortunately, no insurance company is now offering simple direct-to-league policies in the same way you can now buy car insurance online. Still, league managers’ best practice is know that “concussion-omics” will cause a hike in your premiums and a change your carrier or policy. Stay alert.
Injuries are part of playing sports, no matter how old you are. From toddlers playing on a field for the first time to a 40-year-old “weekend warrior” who pulls a hamstring, anyone can fall victim to an injury on the field. They vary in severity and long-term repercussions. There’s an obvious difference between skinning a knee and a concussion.
One disturbingly increasing trend in youth sports is the rate of knee injuries in girls. When female overuse their knees and damage their ligaments via improper stretching techniques, they risk doing lasting or permanent damage to their bodies, both hindering them from playing sports and potentially causing lifelong problems with mobility and pain.
It’s been scientifically proven that female athletes are more prone to knee injuries. In fact, women in general are more likely to injure this area of their body; one in 10 female college athletes has a major knee injury.
This seems odd – the knee isn’t a part of the body that’s typically associated as being different from one sex to the other. In this case, why do women get the shorter end of the stick?
The anterior cruciate ligament, more commonly known as the ACL, is a ligament that women are incredibly prone to tearing. It is one of 4 ligaments stabilizing the knee. Any sports that involve sudden starting and stopping, sudden leg movement are jumping can bring about increased chances for rupturing or tearing this important body part, leading to surgery and the end of a female player’s season.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, girls are at least twice as likely to injure their ACLs, playing the same sport.
The reason for this large increase is partly due to the female anatomy. Women have wider set hips than men, and this is something that is even amplified for girls going through puberty, as their muscles fail to grow in proportion to their bodies and their ligaments stiffen. The way women are built puts added pressure on their knee joints, making it easier for injuries to occur.
Other factors include stance and muscle development. Female athletes often lock their legs or keep them straight when landing from a jump, which adds unneeded stress to their ACL. Many female players also develop their quadriceps muscles without equally strengthening their hamstrings, which puts more pressure on their ACLs.
The Good News
Some factors involved in this issue can’t be changed – we can’t magically make a female youth sports athlete’s hips narrower than her male counterparts.
We can, however, train girl athletes in a way that supports their ACL instead of leaving it as an exposed weakness. One simple solution is to better train girls in proper jumping and movement techniques.
The other part of the solution is to improve female muscle training to include a more evenly dispersed leg routine. Instead of focusing on calves and quads only, more female athletes need to give their hamstring muscles a workout. This can be done through proper stretches, weight training and practicing proper jumping techniques.
Proper stretching also helps reduce injuries, as can agility training and balance exercises (learning to use all muscles to stabilize on an unstable landing or surface).
It takes a village to make a sports league run smoothly. There are many moving parts, and one of the biggest groups of cogs in the sports machine is volunteers. These are people who devote their time to making sure youth sports succeeds and teams get what they need without asking for anything in return, and that’s admirable.
Volunteers are true heroes – they don’t need a paycheck to want to help you be successful. That’s why it’s important to praise, engage and manage your volunteers to the best of your ability. When you give volunteers the best environment in which to work, they’ll thank you for it and their results will improve.
First, take into consideration how many volunteers you have and need. Also, what do you need these volunteers for?
Every youth sports league should have some season-long volunteers that are willing to pitch in, but consider your need for more manpower when it comes to fundraisers, events and championships. How can you manage 100 volunteers if you can’t effectively manage 10?
The key to success here is to create an open line of communication. Combine this with a solid volunteer resource like a newsletter. Know what you want, when you want it and how many people you need to do it. Send out regular emails to ask for help and dictate tasks.
At the same time, give them the opportunity to voice how they feel about tasks and the opportunity to help you help them. If they want to help you manage things, why not?
Volunteers are like regular employees in that they need to be trained and communicated with in order to perform their work effectively. When you need volunteers to do something, keep these questions in mind:
● Do I have a specific volunteer who may be suited to this job?
● How can I best find out which volunteers will be best for the job?
The best way to answer these kinds of queries is to put the horse before the cart in the very beginning. When you ask for volunteers, ask them to fill out a quick questionnaire, along with routine paperwork like fingerprints and a background check. This questionnaire should cover topics like their skillset, availability and how much work they are willing to commit to.
Also, regularly ask for status updates – but keep things casual. Don’t act like you’re giving a performance evaluation, but rather, check in informally on how things are going. This keeps things friendly but still work-focused.
Volunteers can be the unsung heroes of your sports league, and that’s a shame. When a volunteer is doing outstanding work, it is imperative you let them know how much you appreciate what they do for you, the league and the community.
It’s also important to let others know too. Hold a small volunteer luncheon or take out a newspaper ad thanking your volunteers publicly. Put something up on Facebook if you want to go the cheap and easy route. No matter how you do it, make sure you tell your volunteers both personally and as a group that you couldn’t have done it without them.