December 23, 2011
Colleges raise awareness after sex abuse scandals
SUNY Cortland, TC3 will more closely monitor their summer sports camps
John Conners, provost at Tompkins Cortland Community College, wondered in the wake of the recent college sports sex abuse cases about what his own campus does to monitor young people at sports camps.
Colleges across the nation are reviewing how much their coaches and staff are aware of how to report even their suspicions of such behavior, following allegations of sexual abuse at Penn State and Syracuse University.
Colleges locally have been focused on summer sport camps.
The SUNY Youth Sports Coaching Institute — based at SUNY Cortland Ñ has begun recommending that community sports programs with volunteer coaches, such as Little League baseball and youth football, have coordinators for child protection standards and practices.
Conners told the TC3 Board of Trustees earlier this month that he has been meeting with Director of Campus Safety Beau Saul and Director of Athletics Mick McDaniel to review how the college monitors children and high school students who attend its summer sports camps.
"Not just prevention but reporting of anything," Conners said. "After the recent cases surfaced, I was asked what my response would be if I knew of anything happening. I said it would be mere nanoseconds before I would call Beau."
Saul would then contact another law enforcement agency. Conners said Saul and McDaniel assured him that TC3 has solid procedures already, for screening and training the people who work at the camps.
Former Penn State football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky has been accused of sexually abusing boys over a period of years, sometimes at university athletic facilities. Ten men so far have accused him of sexually abusing them as boys.
Four men have accused former 36-year Syracuse University basketball assistant coach Bernie Fine of abusing them at his house and office and during road trips with the team. Federal authorities are investigating charges first raised in 2002.
Conners said college staff will continue discussing the implications from the Sandusky and Fine cases.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced that he will introduce legislation early in 2012 that would require high school and college coaches to report suspected child sexual abuse to law enforcement.
Sandusky is accused of sexually abusing boys, many of whom he met through his foundation, The Second Mile. The case led not just to his arrest on multiple charges but to the resignation of a Penn State vice president and the athletic director, and the firing of football head coach Joe Paterno and university President Graham Spanier.
Sandusky was arrested in November after a grand jury indicted him on multiple charges. Paterno and the administrators lost their jobs because they were accused of not responding to suspicions about Sandusky from staff and to a report by a graduate assistant in 2002 that he had seen Sandusky abusing a 10-year-old boy in a shower at the football facility.
Bernie Fine, former 36-year basketball assistant coach at Syracuse University, has been accused by four men of abusing them when they were boys. Two of them are former ball boys, Bobby Davis and Mike Lang, who accused him of abusing them not just at his house but during road trips with the Orange.
The university fired Fine. He has not been charged with any crime because the statute of limitations has passed, but could face civil lawsuits. Davis and Lang filed a lawsuit against the university and head coach Jim Boeheim last week, for negligence and defamation of character.
SUNY Cortland has been reviewing its policies with summer sports camps and making sure it screens coaches for them in sex offender databases. Spokesman Fred Pierce said the college also screens people who work in its early childhood education program, including the child care center, the same way.
Director of Athletics Mike Urtz recently attended training for college athletic directors at SUNY Morrisville.
Pierce said the college also has an online anonymous tips system for anyone who wants to report a suspicious incident or possible crime, called the Silent Witness Program. The written form can be filled out on the University Police part of the college's website. Such a tip led to hazing charges last year against students in a banned fraternity.
Timothy Donovan, director of the SUNY Youth Sports Coaching Institute, said his organization trains volunteer coaches in community programs, outside of schools.
"Education Law requires school coaches to have courses in identifying child abuse, but there is nothing similar for volunteer coaches," Donovan said.
The institute recommended three weeks ago to 1,000 community sports boards in New York state that they have a coordinator on their boards to keep coaches current on child protection.
"It's critical to protect children and at the same time protect reputations for people who might not have done anything," he said.
Donovan said the institute's trainers also look in databanks of convicted sex offenders, as they screen coaching candidates.
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