Who is coaching your kids?

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New questions are raised about what type of people are coaching Valley kids. (Source: fotokostic / 123RF Stock Photo) New questions are raised about what type of people are coaching Valley kids. (Source: fotokostic / 123RF Stock Photo)
One of the biggest youth sports leagues in the state, National Youth Sports, or NYS, doesn’t even make every coach fill out an application. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) One of the biggest youth sports leagues in the state, National Youth Sports, or NYS, doesn’t even make every coach fill out an application. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
These two men were convicted of sex crimes even though they passed a background check. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) These two men were convicted of sex crimes even though they passed a background check. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
One woman told Nicole Crites that her ex was allowed to coach even with domestic violence convictions. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) One woman told Nicole Crites that her ex was allowed to coach even with domestic violence convictions. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
“Child sexual predators are looking for places where they have easy access to children,” Jessica Nicely said. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) “Child sexual predators are looking for places where they have easy access to children,” Jessica Nicely said. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

We warn our kids about strangers. But are we doing enough as parents to protect them?

We found one of the biggest youth sports league in the state isn’t running background checks on all their coaches.

Almost every kid plays some kind of youth sports growing up.

From little league to flag football, basketball to soccer, the goal: exposing them to the dynamics of teamwork, sportsmanship and fitness.

But with that comes exposure to some unintentional dangers.

Jessica Nicely started the Valley nonprofit, Winged Hope, to help victims of child abuse and domestic violence.

“We hear so often when we think of someone who wants to hurt children, 'They’re a monster,' when in reality, the majority of the time, they’re the really nice guy. They're the one everyone likes," Nicely said.

The statistics are staggering.

One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18.

“Child sexual predators are looking for places where they have easy access to children,” Nicely said.

And that’s just one reason she says anyone working with kids needs a background check.

But that’s not happening.

We checked around and found, one of the biggest youth sports leagues in the state, National Youth Sports, or NYS, doesn’t even make every coach fill out an application.

"I think it’s negligent," Nicely said.

We showed up to a recent game day and asked parents in the East Valley what they think about the league not running background checks on all their coaches.

Adriana Reinhart’s son plays soccer with NYS and said she had no idea they didn't.

"I thought that they would do them or they did do them because they’re working with children," Reinhart said.

NYS is a mostly parent volunteer coaching league.

Nicely says that doesn't mean it's safe.

"The majority of child sex offenders are heterosexual males. The majority of them are married. The majority of them have families," Nicely said.

NYS tells us they only background check coaches for tackle football, and only because those volunteers don't have to be parents and because kids are often dropped off for longer practices.

Background checks cost around $50, or a couple extra bucks per registration.

Reinhart says she’d be more than willing to pay more for NYS to start background checking all their coaches.

"I would definitely think that they should try to start doing something about it because that’s scary!" said Reinhart.

Other parents agree.

Cathryn Powell is also a teacher who knows the importance of background checks but says she's fine her two kids’ coaches haven't been background checked because she knows them personally and never leaves her kids unattended anyhow.

"Nobody's gonna hurt my kid while I'm standing right there," Powell said.

She did say that as her children get older and are involved in sports where she doesn't already know the coach, she would want the coaches and adult volunteers to be background checked and would be happy to pay more to make that happen.

"Without question, that would be something I’d be willing to do," Powell said.

We talked with a Gilbert mom who has a protection order against her son’s NYS football coach.

"On their website, it says, 'Every coach is a role model,' which kind of made me laugh out loud a little bit," she said.

He’s done jail time and is on three years probation for three misdemeanor domestic violence convictions.

"They've got to have a baseline for what they check. And It can't just be that you write your name on a line and you're the coach and that's good to go," she said.

We’re not naming her, or her ex, to protect their kids.

"I thought he would never hurt me. I thought, 'Yeah, he'll break something, but he would never hurt me,'” she said.

“And then he did.”

Her ex told us he would never hurt their kids, who he has joint custody of, or any of the other kids he coaches.

Because of the league directive that at least one parent must be at every practice and game except for tackle football, he says, he doesn't see a need for background checks and "can't think of a safer place for children than to be with one of their parents."

"When I go to my kids' practice, I am usually the only parent sitting there. So they can say that, but it doesn't mean the parents are going to practice that," Nicely said.

"My situation aside," said that coach's ex, "I think there just needs to be some type of standard, even if they draw a line at felony, I’d be fine if they would just have some kind of threshold."

i9 Sports is another popular parent volunteer coaching league here in the Valley.

They tell us they run background checks on all paid and volunteer coaches.

So do all the city parks and recreation leagues we checked with, from small towns like Queen Creek to Tempe, Mesa and Phoenix, where they follow the National Recreation & Park Association recommended guidelines for credentialing volunteers.  

The NRPA guidelines state, “The saying that a ‘bad volunteer is better than no volunteer’ is untrue and dangerous, and should never be considered appropriate.”

As such, along with most felonies, any applicants with recent violent misdemeanor convictions, like domestic violence, get flagged.

"I didn’t know there were other leagues that did and some that don’t run background checks," Reinhart said.

NYS vice president Ryan Coulter says he cares deeply about all the kids and families in his league and, “We are always attempting to make the safest environment for our participants," but says background checks can give a false sense of security because they only catch people who've already been caught.

Case in point: Mesa gymnastics coach Nolan Knuckles, who was just sentenced this summer to 23 years in prison for sexual misconduct with a 13-year-old boy. He passed his background check.

[READ MORE: Ex-gymnastics coach accused of sex crimes sentenced to 23 years in prison]

So did Scottsdale track coach and former teacher of the year, Christopher McKenna, who was sentenced in September 2016 to 10 years for having an ongoing affair with a 17-year-old girl.

[READ MORE: Ex-Scottsdale teacher sentenced for sexual conduct with girl]

"So often I hear, 'Yeah that’s not going to happen to my family,'" Nicely said.

She says, aside from liability, the league has a responsibility to cover their bases and at least check.

"The concern for me is that a lot of parents are going to hear this and do nothing. And that’s with the predators and violent offenders who are coaches are counting on," Nicely said.

Coulter says he is considering changing NYS policy on background checks, and taking a closer look at how it would fit into their highest priority of children’s safety.

“Although we may institute background checks on all volunteers, we will never stop requiring parents (to) attend all practices and games with their kiddos. We strongly believe that parents are their kids’ providers and protectors and we are determined to provide an opportunity for parents to get outside, put their phones down and make memories with their kids,” Coulter said.

Child safety advocates say while not every coach or pastor is a pedophile, a lot of pedophiles seek out those positions just to get closer to kids.

So what do predators do before they groom their victims?

As a survivor herself, Nicely knows what to look for and helps train churches and schools and people working with kids on how to spot not just predators, but victims.

She says before pedophiles start grooming their victims, they often first start by grooming the parent or parents.

“It's those people who seem so likable because that's their goal. Their goal is for you to like them. Their goal is for you to trust them, because once they get your trust as a parent, that's when they can, in turn, violate your child,” Nicely said.

Our children are a lot more trusting of the people we are friendly with and then, because of that, more reluctant to tell us, if something does happen.  

Most victims take an average seven years to disclose when they’ve been sexually abused, and even then, Nicely says they might not be reporting to police, but a friend or family member.

She says for anyone working with your kids at church, school, in sports, you need to ask if they’ve been background checked, don’t assume.

And make sure you’re talking with your children and asking questions that go beyond the typical stranger danger talks we grew up with as kids.

“It’s not just about, ‘Don’t show your privates or don’t let anyone show you their privates.' It’s, ‘Is someone sitting too close to you? Has anybody we know, put their hands on your leg or your shoulder more often then you’re comfortable with? Are they asking questions they shouldn’t, talking about things they shouldn’t? Or showing you things on their phone?'” Nicely said.

“If your pastor or your coach is someone who already has a wife, already has a family of his own but is spending time going to your child's sporting events, or spending time with your child outside of church, that’s a red flag,” she added.

“Instead of being like, ‘Oh, that’s so sweet he wants to watch my child’s game,’ No, that’s wrong. That’s weird,” Nicely said.

So you even have to be aware of how your kids perceive your friendliness to others who you might not really even know that well. That’s very common in church settings where the focus is on forgiveness and parents typically drop off children while they attend service in a separate room. 

Nicely suggests asking if they have a child protection policy in place. That's often a big deterrent for predators who will seek out places that aren't being active about background checks and this kind of training.

Winged Hope has a lot more information on the warning signs and offers free counseling for those who need it.

[MORE: Recommended guidelines for credentialing volunteers]

[MORE: The CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study on childhood trauma]

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Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


Nicole CritesNicole Crites anchors "Good Evening Arizona" weeknights 4 p.m.-6:30 p.m. on 3TV with Brandon Lee.

Click to learn more about Nicole.

Nicole Crites

The two- time Emmy award winner has been telling stories about Valley newsmakers and trends for more than a decade. Before joining 3TV's "Good Evening Arizona" team, she was the morning news anchor at KPHO-TV in Phoenix.

Nicole loves meeting new people every day and finding ways to bring context to news unfolding in our community and our world.

A wife and mother of two little ones, Nicole is always exploring Arizona to uncover exciting adventures to share. She grew up in a big family, one of six kids in Tucson.

She graduated from the University of Arizona. Work and early internships took her from Manhattan to Spokane, WA, back to Arizona, where she and her high school sweetheart settled to start a family.

Nicole loves to read and keep busy with community service and crafts, like quilting baby blankets, something her mom taught her in elementary school.  

Nicole's passion for storytelling and helping others is why she got into journalism.

She won an Emmy for her field anchoring of the deadly Tucson shooting and assassination attempt of then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and another for her KPHO "Keeping the Promise" series on military struggles and success profiles.

She is an active board member for the nonprofit, Military Assistance Mission, supporting our Arizona military, their families and wounded warriors.

She believes everyone has a story and says the most interesting people she has interviewed weren't the actors or politicians who've been guests on the show over the years, but the "ordinary" people you'd never guess have overcome extreme odds and are doing extraordinary things every day

If you have a story you’d like to share with Nicole, click here to email her.

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