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.
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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.
The Jerry Sandusky case at Pennsylvania State University shifted Miranto’s previous finance operation role into one of safety and risk management.
Since becoming the athletic camp administrator, Miranto has developed a policy to protect minors. She said it’s “by no means perfect.” She said her intention at the minor-safety seminar was to gather information from childcare experts to improve the policy.
A typical risk at the summer camps, Miranto explained, is a student athlete escorting campers down hectic State Street.
“The one that’s supervising and he’s walking and he’s texting,” Miranto said. “Is he really watching the kids? No, because we don’t have that training mechanism for getting the people that are properly trained that are watching the kids.”
The camp is not accredited by the American Camp Association, a century-old nonprofit that has accredited more than 2,400 camps nationwide.
The ACA’s 300 standards for health, safety and program quality are geared toward lengthy camps. Miranto said seeking accreditation for some of the short clinics the camp hosts “would not be feasible.”
Collegiate athletic departments across the country host summer camps. Miranto said these camps typically function differently than the University’s.
“Do they do it better?” she said. “I’m sure there’s absolutely schools that do it better than us right now.”
Ablauf later noted in response to Miranto's comments that the athletic camps are lauded nationwide as model structures for similar programs.
The head coaches of each individual sport personally own their camps, Miranto said. The camps are limited liability companies, for which the University and coaches are not personally responsible for the actions of the company. This system allowed coaches to make a profit from their camps, an activity that’s not allowed by the nonprofit University.
“You’re dealing, essentially, with third parties,” Miranto said. “Yeah, they’re employed by the University, but essentially a third-party vendor that’s coming on and giving you money to use your facility and they want to run their business the way they want to run it.”
Miranto said the coaches’ preference to operate their camps independently can thwart the University’s mission for hosting young athletes: to establish future Wolverines.
“We want them to be students here someday,” Miranto said. “We want them to maybe become our student athletes someday. So the experience that they get, and this is actually really challenging for us to disseminate to our coaches, is that experience could shape what they do in the future. ... We want them to be safe.”
Correction appended: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article misstated the date of the forum.