update after the jump

The Enterprise Report brought attention today to the United States Tennis Association:

The United State Tennis Association (USTA), secretly and quietly launched a program to background check all coaches, officials and others working with child based tennis programs acorss the United States last October. The background check program was begun without any public notice, notification to parents or to the general public at large.

The USTA action was prompted by an Enterpirse report of Stanley Smith, a California listed sex offender, who had moved to Arizona, and to the dismay of parents, taken up officiating childrens' tennis matches nationwide.

Though the potential problem does sound skeevy and is a bit goosebump inducing, the checks do seem to have the full support of USTA and they do seem to be doing their job.

Cathy Thomas, head of the Coachella Valley USTA Program, is all for the action. She says to L.A. Weekly: “I think it's a very good thing to do with officials. There are so many wacky people out there … The officials are all for it.”

All 12 of her 12 officials in Coachella have had clean checks. Thomas does know of one situation that is currently being followed up with but it does not involve any of her staff and she did not feel comfortable commenting further on it at this time.

Southern California hasn't seemed to be affected much … which is nice to hear. (Apparently, Cali did a good job of exporting its tennis slimeballs to Arizona.)

Harry van Besoyen, a USTA official in the Santa Barbara area tells L.A. Weekly he hasn't heard about any disturbing findings: “I've had no feedback from anyone saying anything. I haven't heard it affect anyone that I know yet, good, bad or otherwise.”

Update: Other than Smith (who had been officiating nationwide for over a decade — including the U.S. Open), who was outed to be a sex offender by a spectator at the Arizona tournament, there are an alarming number of cases nationwide. And there are a history of cases that warrant this action: including the childhood coach of tennis champion Peter Sampras, Dr. Pete Fischer, who helped launch Sampra's career, and was later convicted in 1997 of molesting three young boys. Sampras has never accused his former coach of any inappropriate actions.

Though the USTA claim to be “all for it,” there was push back before the rule was implemented.

More importantly: Those found out to have backgrounds, are kept secret — and nobody gets to find out what the background check turned up. So they are free to go apply for a non-USTA tennis job (camp/ schools, you name it.) This doesn't do much to pro-actively protect kids.

Embarrassing: The Olympic committee has required these background checks but USTA just hasn't gotten around to it till now.

Contact Mars Melnicoff at mmelnicoff@laweekly.com / follow @marsmelnicoff

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