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Little League to check all volunteers against sex offender lists

| Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2002

STATE COLLEGE: Little League Baseball will require all managers, coaches and volunteers to be checked against their state's list of convicted sex offenders.

Little League officials said their group is the first national youth sports organization to have such a requirement.

"We want to let anyone who would prey upon kids in the Little League program know that they're not welcome and we're going to do what we can to keep them out," said Stephen D. Keener, president of Little League Baseball Inc.

Little League has recommended that local leagues do background checks on volunteers since 1996, when USA Baseball suggested that all youth baseball organizations adopt such voluntary policies.

"We certainly commend Little League for taking this step — it's a giant step, and long overdue. The problem is, of course, that it's a real dilemma because in many cases organizations do not have the funds to mandate this," said Lolly Keys, spokeswoman for the California-based American Youth Soccer Organization, which conducts random background checks on volunteers.

"At this point, we need help from the national government," Keys said. "We need access to a national criminal database at a reasonable amount, and that can be done in a timely fashion."

Keener, too, called for a national database that could facilitate such searches, saying the National Child Protection Improvement Act, introduced last December by Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., would provide such access.

Since 1988, nine Little League volunteers are known to have sexually abused children. But Keener said no single incident led to the change in policy — rather, the high-profile sex-abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church and the ready availability of sex-offender registries convinced Little League that such checks should be made mandatory.

"The fact that the Catholic Church has been through what the Catholic Church has been through has certainly increased the public awareness and attention, as well," Keener said. "When you combine all of those factors, we felt this was the right time to do this."

In 43 states and the District of Columbia, that information already can be obtained free over the Internet or from local law enforcement agencies. Local Little Leagues would be responsible for the fees for criminal background checks in the seven remaining states — Connecticut, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania and South Dakota.

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