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Faults exist in summer athletic camp safety, says director

By Rachel Premack, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 26, 2013

In candid discussion at a forum Tuesday night, the head of the University’s athletic camps acknowledged “significant gaps” in the University’s ability to ensure the safety of minors who participate in sports camps over the summer.

More than 9,000 campers between the ages of 10 and 18 participate in 24 summer athletic camp programs offered by the University. Participating on a panel Tuesday regarding the safety of minors on college campuses, Athletic Camp Administrator Katie Miranto expressed her concern that the Athletic Department doesn’t do enough to vet its counselors.

“I can’t even describe to you how many gaps there are and how nervous I get over the summer,” Miranto said Tuesday. “It’s very hard to sleep.”

Athletic Department spokesman Dave Ablauf said in a statement that Miranto’s comments focused on how the camp should improve as well as issues that are actively receiving attention or have already been addressed.

“All programs should constantly be looking for ways to improve — and we're no different,” Ablauf said. “There's no way anyone could get everything right all the time. We were part of a public seminar to do just that — to be open and transparent about our strengths, as well as our areas of improvement.”

One issue Miranto pointed out was the thoroughness of the department’s background checks on counselors. At the panel, Miranto said the department runs ICHAT Michigan background checks on potential employees. However, ICHAT criminal history records provided by the state of Michigan include only crimes committed in-state, according to the state's website..

This means that crimes committed in staff members’ home states, including crimes that signify that they should not be around children, could be unknown to the University.

At the panel, Miranto expressed concern at this fact, noting that the majority of the camp staff are from outside the state of Michigan, but Ablauf later clarified that only 33 percent are from out-of-state.

Miranto said the department can’t afford to do a broader background check in the short time they have to vet counselors. The Athletic Department has a budget for 2013-14 year of $137.5 million and a projected surplus of $8.9 million.

“That is a huge area of concern right now, but the way the system is built, it’s really our only option for cost reasons, for how fast we need to turn the background check around,” Miranto said.

Ablauf later stated that background checks include self-reporting of any criminal history and online monitoring of camp employees.

Miranto also said coaches at the camp receive no training in regards to sexual-abuse prevention. Coaches may interact with minors for a three-hour clinic or up to weeks at a time. Campers who stay in University Residence halls overnight are monitored by residential staff.

The department said that camp directors, who train their own staff, are extensively trained. Instruction focuses on procedures, protocol, pre-camp logistics and child-safety training. Coaches are told not to spend one-on-one time with campers.

LSA senior Lexi Erwin, senior outside hitter on the Michigan volleyball team, coached volleyball players at a University camp. Erwin said she and the other coaches walked them to the gym, dorms and dining hall, escorting them for most of the day. She said her training consisted of 30 minutes of street-safety lessons and two concussion-detection tests.

When Miranto assumed her role at the University two-and-a-half years ago, she said there was no central policy or resource in regards to safety policy for minors.