Background Checks Will Now Be Required for All High School Sporting Officials in Tennessee

By Michael Klazema on 11/11/2015
After an autumn full of controversy, Tennessee's high school sporting association has officially decided to require background checks for all referees and officials. According to a new report from The Tennessean, the TSSAA (or the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association) voted at their most recent board meeting to implement background checks for all sporting officials who wish to register with the association. All high school athletics referees must be registered with the TSSAA to oversee games, meets or contests throughout the state.

The TSSAA decision is a step forward for Tennessee high school athletics, which has shouldered a controversy due to the lack of official background checks this fall. In September, the TSSAA suspended one of their referees after discovering that he had failed to disclose his full criminal history. The now-former official, as it turned out, had pleaded guilty to attempted statutory rape and aggravated criminal trespass back in 2007, according to The Tennessean.

Those convictions, particularly the attempted statutory rape charge, would have likely disqualified the referee in question from officiating high school athletic events. However, since the TSSAA only required criminal record disclosure and not criminal background checks, the official was able to hide pieces of his past to get on the field with minors. While no reports of abuse or harassment have come to light, either prior to or following the official's suspension and dismissal, the fact is that the TSSAA's honor system didn't work.

Luckily, the incident seems to have shaken the TSSAA awake. By showing just how easy it would be for a sex offender or violent criminal to lie about his or her past and find a place on a football or baseball field, the incident proved that background checks are a must for sports officials. Just like high school teachers and high school coaches are subject to background screenings, so too should athletic officials face those checks.

After considerable pressure from school districts throughout the state, the TSSAA's board officially voted on Thursday, November 12th to require background checks for all officials. The new policy will take effect immediately and will apply to every person wishing to register with the organization to be an official. The checks are not a one-time deal, either; instead, the TSSAA has decided that the background checks will be an annual requirement for anyone who wishes to stay active in high school sports officiating. Officials who fail to pass their checks or who fail to complete them will be removed from the lists that the TSSAA sends to school districts throughout the state.

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