Palmer Athletics to Start Background Checks
August 20, 2009
In wake of shooting, move will come with a price tag, to be passed on to participants
By Christopher Baxter OF THE MORNING CALL
Most Palmer Township residents knew Daniel Autenrieth as a neighbor and youth baseball coach before the June day when he led state Trooper Joshua Miller and other officers on a winding chase that ended in a shootout in the Poconos. Both men died.
In the wake of the shooting, the Palmer Township Athletic Association plans to implement background checks for all coaches, assistant coaches and parent helpers. The policy was in the works before the tragedy, Vice President Jim McDonald told the Board of Supervisors on Monday, but the outcry from parents since has been fierce.
”With recent events in the community and society, there’s an ever-growing outpouring for this kind of thing,” McDonald said. ”Background checks are not an end-all, meet-all. They don’t catch everybody, and that’s something the community needs to be aware of.”
The practice, common among youth sports organizations in the Lehigh Valley, will help screen out applicants with a violent history or record of abusing kids, McDonald said. Preliminary plans for the policy would require coaches, assistant coaches and parent helpers to submit to FBI background checks and child abuse checks.
A panel of people will then review the checks and make a final determination, McDonald said. All approved coaches and helpers will receive a standard T-shirt to indicate they have been cleared. McDonald said the checks have become so sought after that some leagues won’t allow Palmer’s teams to compete without cleared coaches.
The association will pay for the background checks by raising its fees, McDonald said. The association estimates it will cost $15,000 up front to run checks on all current coaches and helpers. Costs will then decrease dramatically, as most coaches return each season and will not need to be rechecked, McDonald said. The fee increase has not yet been set.
Supervisor Chairman David Colver said parents should understand that the protection has a cost, and that Palmer generally charges much less for its sports leagues than other municipalities. McDonald said the association plans to use a town hall-style meeting to educate its members on why the fee must be raised.
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