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Whistled for a foul

Leaders of most youth sports organizations in the Rogue Valley say there's little chance of a convicted felon making it onto their fields or courts as a referee or coach.

The issue arose following the arrest of a youth basketball official, 45-year-old Antoine Ramone Coleman, who allegedly stabbed his wife multiple times on Christmas morning and has a significant criminal history.

Coleman has officiated several youth basketball games at Kids Unlimited, said Tom Cole, executive director of the organization, which provides after-school and weekend activities in its Medford facility on Riverside Avenue and last year launched the VIBES Public Charter School.

Cole said he has also seen Coleman officiate youth basketball games run by Medford-based Manny's League and the Amateur Athletic Union.

Vern Loy, commissioner of the Rogue Valley Basketball Officials Association, coordinates the assigning of basketball officials for many of the high school and Amateur Athletic Union basketball games that take place in the Rogue Valley, he said. All of those officials pass background checks and meet Oregon School Activities Association requirements.

Loy said he does not provide referees for Manny's League or Kids Unlimited, both of which select officials independently.

"If that person (Coleman) was assigned a game or games, then he came through another source, and I wouldn't have any idea what source," Loy said. "It's very important for us to be able to put people out on the court who have cleared any safety issues. ... All of the officials I have are always state-certified."

James Wightman, coordinator of Southern Oregon Youth Club League, which oversees Amateur Athletic Union sixth- through eighth-grade boys basketball games, said, "all my referees come from the Rogue Valley association."

Wightman has been coordinator for about six years, he said, and uses the Rogue Valley Basketball Officials Association for obtaining officials because of its high standards.

Cole, who is also the coach of the top-ranked South Medford High School girls varsity basketball team, said that despite his knowledge of Coleman's criminal history, he allowed him to officiate youth basketball games at Kids Unlimited for several years and up until his recent arrest.

"I know that when you look at his rap sheet, he has made a lot of poor choices," Cole said.

According to online records from the Oregon Judicial Department, Coleman has been convicted in Jackson County of the following charges: two counts of manufacturing a controlled substance, manufacturing a controlled substance within 100 feet of a school, two counts of fourth-degree assault, recklessly endangering another person, second-degree criminal mischief, delivery of a controlled substance, delivery of methamphetamine, delivery of cocaine, possession of methamphetamine, possession of cocaine, attempt to commit a Class-A felony and resisting arrest.

Following the alleged attack on his wife, Coleman is facing charges of attempted murder, first-degree assault and second-degree assault.

"Those last times that I had seen him, he was clean, he was sober and he was trying to keep his life on track," Cole said. "There was nothing that he ever did as an official in any of the years that I was with him that I ever thought was a risk for the safety of kids.

"I know he is a guy who suffered through some addiction ... his kids are kids in our program, and I have had a soft spot for him and his family."

Cole made it adamantly clear, "what (Coleman) did was inexcusable, period. (Coleman's wife) is lucky to be alive, and the kids are lucky that they still a have a mother."

Cole said regardless of whether Coleman is convicted of the attempted murder charge, he will no longer referee or play any other role at Kids Unlimited.

When contacted Thursday and asked whether Coleman has ever officiated a Manny's League youth basketball game, Manny Crump, founder and organizer of Manny's League, said "maybe a few times years ago ... lately no."

Crump then said "(Coleman) didn't ref in Manny's," and hung up the phone. When Crumb answered the phone following that interview, he declined to comment further.

Unlike the AAU competition, which can stretch across the state, Manny's League consists of local youth teams that primarily play locally.

On Friday, Manny's League board of directors released a statement to the Mail Tribune, which read in part: "as the extra precaution, MBA refs are certified through Rogue Valley and Grants Pass associations. Refs are not an employee of MBA; they are contracted workers. In order to ref in the MBA, they need to go through the process of getting certified."

The statement was read over the phone by Corrina Scott, who identified herself as an administrator with Manny's League. The statement continued: "the assumption is that the association usually does a background check on their officials. All the officials that you would see in our gym, you would more than likely see them also reffing the games that you would see at any of the schools. ... None of our refs are ever left with children ... they have specific guidelines and rules that refs have to follow. ... No, (Coleman) has not reffed or ever coached for Manny's basketball league."

The Grants Pass association mentioned by Scott is the Grants Pass Basketball Officials Association, which like the Rogue Valley Basketball Officials Association is an accredited local officials organization.

Scott clarified that Manny's League doesn't procure officials from the local officials associations, but that it requires its officials to be certified by those associations.

To be accredited by the Oregon School Activities Association, referee associations must adhere to OSAA policies. Among other things, those policies do not allow any officials who have been convicted of a felony involving the use, possession or sale of a controlled substance within the past 10 years or convicted of a crime involving the use or threatened use of violence against a person.

Officials who have engaged in "prohibited conduct," as defined in the OSAA handbook, can appeal to the OSAA executive board to be allowed to officiate OSAA-sanctioned contests.

Loy said he doesn't provide officials from Rogue Valley Basketball Officials Association to officiate any game unless every official at the game meets OSAA standards.

According to Cole, another source of officials for youth basketball games in the Rogue Valley is Damon Neufeld, who runs the Grants Pass-based "Damon Sports Officials" organization. Neufeld was granted a business license by the city of Medford to operate in the city in 2012.

Neufeld did not respond to several phone messages from the Mail Tribune last week. When someone calling from his phone number did return a call to a phone number not associated with the newspaper, he or she immediately hung up after a Mail Tribune reporter identified himself.

Neufeld is a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics official, and frequently officiates Southern Oregon University basketball games.

Organizations that run youth sports programs, including the Rogue Valley Family YMCA and Medford Parks and Recreation Department, hire their own officials, which are put through the same background checks as their employees.

The Medford Parks and Recreation Department doesn't operate a youth basketball league because it sees that demand being filled by programs such as Manny's League, Kids Unlimited, the YMCA and the AAU, said Rich Rosenthal, recreation supervisor there.

But the parks and recreation department does hire officials for its other youth sports leagues and tournaments, Rosenthal said.

"(Officials and umpires) are contractors, and we require those contractors to go through nationwide background screenings before they ever step on the field. We have those preventative measures that are automatically in place," Rosenthal said. "It's just demonstrating to parents that the people who are in the room or on the field with their kids, that we have done our due diligence and done everything we can to make sure those people are appropriate to have around kids."

The YMCA, said Gary Taylor, camp and sports director, hires its officials for youth sports as employees of the YMCA, and requires background checks.

"We do not use the Rogue Valley officials association. All of our referees are employees of the YMCA, they become employees before they can referee," he said.

Loy says it's common sense to have thorough background checks for officials, because "sports officials are there for the kids and the safety of the kids, and supervision of the kids is everyone's responsibility in the gym ... the officials are just one part of it, but they are a part of it."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.

Whistled for a foul