Your biggest worries as the parent of a student athlete are supposed to be: No. 1, the coach playing your kid; No. 2, that obnoxious parent screaming at the coach; No. 3, how long it takes your offspring to shower and grab her gear so you can finally go home.
There’s a new No. 1, thanks to Dennis G. Cotton.
Cotton, 51, was officiating basketball and baseball games in the Smithton grade school district for more than a year. He is a registered sex offender.
“We are extremely thankful that no incidents occurred with any of our children,” Smithton Superintendent Susan Homes said. “But this situation should open the eyes of every school district in the state.”
Yes, it should.
Cotton was on probation after failing to register his new address in May. He originally was convicted of molesting a 15-year-old in 2003 in Arizona.
Swansea Police were tipped by another agency that Cotton was working in Smithton and obtained a felony and four misdemeanor charges against him.
Part of the issue was that Cotton wore an Illinois High School Association patch on his sleeve. His credentials are expired, but potential officials only mark a box stating they are not a registered sex offender.
The IHSA is still debating whether to conduct criminal background checks on its officials. That’s simple enough, with local law enforcement able to take a fingerprint and run the checks for about $50 a pop.
There is a responsibility to vet adults involved with children whether you are a school, scouting group or church. Sex offender registries are public for a reason.
While a background check is not a shield for a child, the cost is worth it. Still, there’s no substitute for an alert parent.