Little League Coaching Decision Raises Questions About Background Check Policy

By Michael Klazema on 7/6/2013

At least one parent has pulled their child from an Indianapolis Little League team after learning that the team’s coach was involved in a drug bust in July of last year. The coach, Russell Pryor, was taken into custody as part of a sting against his motorcycle club. He later pled guilty to a felony charge related to drug trafficking based on recorded evidence that he had agreed to deliver pills to another club member.

Pryor was a well-known face in the local Little League. He had coached on various teams and helped with fundraising for years before the Lowell Little League team decided to allow him to serve as their coach.

According to Lowell Little League Board President Craig Messenger, the board did run a background check on Pryor before accepting him as their coach. The background check came back clean, perhaps because at the time it was run, Pryor’s plea deal had not yet resulted in a sentencing. Pryor is still awaiting sentencing, which is now scheduled for November 2013.

Because of the way in which information about criminal records gets collected by various national criminal databases, employers need to take care that they are using a thorough background check product that checks as many sources as possible. This prevents items from being unnecessarily being overlooked because they have not been added to the database. US OneSEARCH from is an excellent example of a comprehensive database product that compares an individual’s name and data of birth against over 450 million records culled from state and local databases across the country. Because this database is updated regularly, it may contain records not found by other products that rely solely on various state databases compiled by other screening firms.

In general, employers are expected not to use arrest information alone as the basis for making adverse hiring decisions. However, in situation where a case has already been presented in court, but the outcome is pending, it might be prudent to put the prospective new hire’s job application on hold until the trial is complete.

The Lowell Little League board was certainly aware of Pryor’s situation at the time that they hired him. Messenger reported that the situation was discussed at a board meeting, and afterwards the board voted 6-1 to allow Pryor to coach.

Although some parents are concerned about Pryor’s criminal record and his involvement with the motorcycle club, the board did not violate any guidelines by hiring him. According to Little League Central Region Director Nina Johnson, local officials are solely responsible for their own coaching decisions. The only exception is that they may not hire individuals who have been convicted of or pled guilty to crimes specifically against a minor. Pryor’s conviction does not fall into this category, and the local board did not believe he posed any danger to children.

Messenger defended the board’s choice to hire Pryor on the grounds that Pryor has a long history in the community and has always been an active and supportive participant in Little League. Pryor’s lawyer mentioned that Pryor, who served as the club’s chaplain, was a very low-level club member and is expected to avoid prison time as a result of his plea deal.


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