In the news we find another community sports person accused of sexual misconduct with a child. This one hits close to home, literally and figuratively, because it originates in my home area, from an era when my children were immersed in kids’ sports on the North Shore. I too was deeply involved, having served many years in administration of minor hockey organizations and management of leagues throughout the Pacific Coast district.
First, I should relate that I am not acquainted first hand with the accused nor am I aware of the accuser’s identity. I do know something though about the risks to child safety and the management of risk in sports organizations. Charges in this case relate to offenses that allegedly occurred from 1991 to 1995. This was a few years before the infamous revelations of sexual abuse by Junior Hockey Coach Graham James.
In that situation, ex-NHL player Sheldon Kennedy demonstrated the courage to speak about James’ crimes against him years before. The previously respected coach was then convicted, sentenced to three and one-half years in jail and banned forever by Hockey Canada.
More importantly, it was a wake-up call to the world of minor sports. Hockey Canada, its provincial branches, districts and local associations imposed new policies to protect youth. This was a comprehensive approach, aimed at educating everyone, from players and team officials to administrators and parents.
In North Vancouver, as is now common, every coach, team official and association officer became subject to a police record check. Rules were laid down specifying that no adult should be alone in the company of a player, at the rinks or away from them. Cameras and cell phones were banned from dressing rooms and websites were monitored for inappropriate content.
The associations were alert for potential problems and everyone’s sensitivity was raised to the issues. North Vancouver Minor Hockey says they will review their entire program again to see if improvements can be made. I suspect the association has done as much as it can.
Groups can never substitute for parents and ultimately, moms and dads must themselves ensure a safe environment for their own children. That means young athletes cannot be dropped at the rink. Instead, the family must be involved, staying close and being observant. If parents do that, their children will be fine.
Any open community institution of more than 1,000 individuals includes people of all types. Almost everyone is well motivated and adequately appraised and supervised but there has been a growth of unsanctioned, unregulated facilities outside the purview of Hockey Canada and its community affiliates.
Independents range from off-ice training operations and schools to private fitness and skills tutoring, “select” team programs and unsanctioned spring and summer leagues. Sometimes, these will be led by a sort of guru who claims special knowledge and skills and direct connections to scouts and programs in the “big time.” These people know how to market themselves to families and massage the egos of moms and dads of the next generations’ superstars.
Frankly, they also know to evade the examinations and supervision of organized hockey, which is why they operate independently. If you choose these routes for young ones, be warned, be vigilant and be close at hand. Often, dangers come not from strangers but from those with a continuing relationship that enables pre-abuse grooming.