VOLUNTEERS Child groups to check history
Police found no improper conduct by the coach with the players.
PARMA, Ohio (AP) -- The case of a soccer coach charged with obtaining child pornography highlights growing concern among parents and others about volunteers who work with children.
Federal authorities say they found child porn when they searched the Parma apartment of youth soccer coach Andrew Zupko last spring.
A subsequent police investigation found no allegations of improper conduct between Zupko and any of the dozens of players on his Xtreme Soccer Club teams, consisting of boys ages 11 through 14.
In light of Zupko's and other cases, more organizations are starting to ask for background checks and institute prevention programs. Such checks are not mandatory under state law, but organizations can require volunteers to sign releases allowing them.
Zupko, 30, has pleaded innocent to one charge each of receiving child pornography and possessing child pornography. A federal magistrate ordered him jailed until his Sept. 13 trial. If convicted, he faces five to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count.
About 40 Northeast Ohio youth sports organizations use training programs from the National Alliance for Youth Sports. The programs include information on sexual abuse and appropriate behavior.
The Ohio attorney general's office last year received more than 250,000 requests for background checks on people working with children. The number of requests has climbed 5 percent over three years. The checks find an arrest history 7 percent or 8 percent of the time, said spokeswoman Kim Norris.
The Parma Heights Recreation Department will begin screening its soccer coaches this fall. Recreation Director Bill Litten said background checks would most likely discourage ill-intentioned coaches, even though he's reluctant to impose the requirement on volunteers who already give up a lot to help.
"You have enough trouble getting volunteers," Litten said. "But you also have to be aware of the society we live in and you want to protect the kids."
Litten recommends that parents pay attention.
"Most parents involved in their kids' lives are going to notice if something's not right," he said.
Tim Godfray, who has two sons who played on Zupko's soccer teams, said he never saw inappropriate behavior by Zupko.
"I didn't have any concerns," he said. "Any time I saw him, it was in a soccer environment and he was very good with the kids."
Godfray said he hasn't lost his confidence in youth sports coaches. He has coached some baseball himself.
"You've got hundreds and hundreds of coaches out there and you're bound to find somebody bad in there every so often," he said.
Stepped-up prevention efforts aren't being seen just in youth sports.
The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland is one of the first in the nation to comply with a national church mandate to provide training on sex-abuse prevention.
It is fingerprinting and conducting background checks on thousands of volunteers and church employees who work with children more than once a month.
Other church bodies are urging local churches to develop training and policies to prevent sexual abuse.
"We do not require it, but some local churches have implemented it," said the Rev. Pamela Monteith, associate director of the Council on Ministries of the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church.