Illinois reviews policies after criminal found umpiring games

October 5, 2016 / Athletic AdministrationCoaching
Illinois may soon adopt a strict policy on background checks for sports officials after discovering that a sex offender has been working games for at least the last year.

Referee1The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) and state lawmakers are both examining ways to quickly implement mandatory background checks for sports officials. The IHSA currently does not require background checks, but after learning a sex offender slipped through the cracks, changes are likely coming.

According to the Belleville News-Democrat, 51-year-old Dennis Cotton has been working basketball and baseball games in the Smithton School District, despite a 2003 conviction in Arizona involving a 15-year-old girl. Last week, Cotton was arrested for allegedly failing to meet the requirements of the sex offender registry.

The IHSA could make changes to its policies, but state lawmakers aren’t waiting.

From the article:

State Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton, said Friday he’s working with Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton, to pass legislation addressing the issue. They are co-sponsoring a bill, House Bill 6608.

“This is something that, unfortunately, seems to have fallen through the cracks,” Costello said. “It’s something that we need to rectify immediately to make sure sexual predators are not around our children.”

Costello said he thinks there could be legislation requiring sports officials to undergo digital fingerprinting, which he said is available at numerous private vendors for a nominal fee. Digital fingerprints are checked against police databases. A number of occupations in Illinois require digital fingerprinting, along with applicants for concealed-carry gun permits.

Beiser said the legislation would require the IHSA to conduct background checks on everyone who applies to be an umpire or referee at high school sports events. The proposal bans the organization from hiring anyone who is required to register as a sex offender or violent offender against youth.

Part of the issue is cost, and the article notes that fingerprint checks can cost about $50 per person. Multiply that by the number of officials licensed in Illinois, and the total cost eclipses $600,000.

Costello and Beiser planned to introduce the bill during the next legislative session.

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