Less than a month ago, a private school teacher was charged with molesting three of his male students. Today, the AJC is reporting the arrest of William Leonard Abbate, a shooting coach in Henry County (AJC Article). Mr. Abbate turned himself in to police after the 15-year-old victim’s father filed charges. Adding insult to injury, Mr. Abbate was not only the team’s coach, he was a friend of the victim’s family.
Parents, take heed, 90% of the time your child will know his or her molester. This man coached an elite shooting team that travelled around the country. He was in a position of trust and he violated that trust in the most egregious manner. He is accused of molesting his victim multiple times, not only in Georgia, but also on the road when the team was travelling. She should be proud of herself for having the courage to put a stop to the abuse by speaking out.
Many Atlanta families participate in travel sports. “Travel” has become the normal progression for young athletes who want to be at the top of their games. These teams are comprised of close knit groups of athletes and their families who get to know each other very well. If your child participates in sports at the travel level, extra caution should be taken to avoid the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Here are some simple tips for travel sport safety:
- If the team is organized under a larger umbrella such as a school, parks & recreation department, etc., make sure that the organization has vetted all coaches and volunteers thoroughly, including reference and background checks. If not, do your best to vet the coach yourself by conducting reference checks with the parents of former players.
- Attend every practice or arrange a rotation with one or more trusted parents so that there is always someone watching over your child. If you are not present, you are giving the molester an opportunity to begin grooming your child as a victim.
- Verify sleeping arrangements prior to any travel. The team should have written policies regarding travel, including same sex chaperones accompanying the children. If possible, travel with your child.
- If your child’s coach seems to be paying extra attention to him/her, asking for private practice sessions, giving extra praise or presents, treat this as a red flag and immediately open a dialogue with your child about your concerns.
- Tune into your child’s behavior around the coach. Is he/she unresponsive, withdrawn, avoiding practice? This could be a red flag.
- For some teenage girls, a crush on a male coach could precipitate the molestation. Does your daughter seem to have a crush on her coach? If so, consider the appropriateness of the coach’s response. Adult males should not flirt with teenage girls, even joking around. Know that the coach may behave differently when you’re there than when you’re not, so ask other trusted parents on the team to observe his behavior toward your daughter in your absence.
Follow these safety tips, keep an open dialogue with your athlete and trust your gut; and your family’s experience with travel sports will likely be a wonderful one. The great majority of coaches should be applauded. They are wonderful men and women who enjoy mentoring young athletes and have a love of their sport.