Youth football coach's arrest raises questions about hiring process

Question remains as to how Larry Cruce was hired even with arrest history

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The weekend arrest of a Middleburg youth football coach on multiple felony charges has raised questions, including how he was able to pass a background check with multiple prior arrests on his record.

News4Jax on Wednesday spoke with other Jacksonville-area youth coaches, who shed light on the hiring process.

Larry "Shawn" Cruce, 33, of Orange Park, was arrested on three counts of child abuse without great harm after several witnesses told police he punched three opposing players during a post-game brawl in New Smyrna Beach.

The incident unfolded immediately after Saturday's game between the Middleburg Broncos and the New Smyrna Beach Cudas at the New Smyrna Beach Sports Complex.

Though Cruce was hired by the Middleburg Athletic Association, local coaches who were hired by Pop Warner, a different organization, said before anyone can get on the field with a team, they must pass a background check.

Veteran Pop Warner football coach Romaro Robinson said Cruce shouldn't have been on the field.

"If they actually do a thorough background check, he shouldn't have ever been coaching anybody's child," he said. 

The question about whether youth coaches undergo background checks comes after News4Jax discovered court records showing Cruce had been arrested at least five previous times.

According to Clay County court records, he faced charges ranging from third-degree felony theft to lewd and lascivious behavior, which was later change to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Jacksonville resident Nathan Pabsd said he "definitely" thinks people working with children should undergo background checks.

But the question as to how Cruce was hired to coach youth football with a history of arrests was left unanswered.

That seemed shocking to Robinson, who has been coaching in Northeast Florida for more than 10 years.

"If they do have a background check, to me, I believe he had to fall through the cracks because there's no way he could've gotten a badge if they do a thorough background check like Pop Warner does," Robinson said.

According to Robinson, Pop Warner coaches are required to provide identification, such as a Social Security number and birth date.

He said coaches also have to list a place of employment and contact information for the employer.

Robinson also said there is an extensive background check, similar to one that would be conducted by any employer looking to hire.