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Banned but not benched: Once convicted sex offender was allowed back on the sidelines

Updated: July 31, 2019 06:42 PM

A basketball coach who is banned from some of the biggest tournaments in the country because he was required to register as sex offender has resigned from coaching teens in a prominent Twin Cities traveling basketball program.

Matt Ricker, 43, was an assistant coach and scorekeeper with the Minnesota Magic's 16 and under team, and was coaching in and out of state tournaments as recently as this month. 5 INVESTIGATES confirmed late Wednesday that Ricker is no longer with the team or the organization.

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In 2007, Ricker was convicted of sexually harassing several high school basketball players at Hill Murray High School.

5 INVESTIGATES discovered Ricker had since been permanently banned from coaching in the Amateur Athletic Union, or AAU and by the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

Ricker completed his 10-year probation in 2015. He denied repeated requests for comment.

 "If there was a concern in the legal system, he would be banned from being around youth," said John Sherman, director of the Minnesota Magic, in response to questions about Ricker's involvement with the program prior to his resignation. 

According to Cornell Pillow, the Minnesota Magic’s director of operations, Ricker’s resignation went into effect on July 19 - the same day 5 INVESTIGATES confronted Sherman.

At least one parent who learned of Ricker's past questioned the decision to keep him in a coaching role.

"I'm sure they do background check the coaches, but they're definitely not doing anything about the backgrounds that come back," said Jennifer Nuttall, whose 15-year-old son left the program in June after the family learned of Ricker's criminal history.

In 2007, police arrested Ricker in St. Paul after three boys' basketball players from Hill-Murray High School reported receiving sexually-explicit and harassing text messages from the then-assistant coach, according to court documents.

The criminal complaint states Ricker sent graphic messages to the players, including one in which Ricker asked a player about the size of his genitalia. In another message, Ricker offered to pay an underage boy $500 if the boy allowed Ricker to perform oral sex on him, according to court records.

Later that same year, Ricker pleaded guilty to aggravated harassment. He was sentenced to 30 days in the Ramsey County Workhouse and 10 years' probation, during which time he was required to register as a sex offender and could not have unsupervised contact with minors.

The AAU blocked Ricker from membership in 2007 shortly after his arrest. A spokesperson from the organization's national office said the ban does not expire.

Ricker was discharged from probation four years ago, at which time the conditions of his probation ended.

However, in April 2018, the U.S. Center for SafeSport also banned Ricker from coaching, according to the center's disciplinary database.

SafeSport was created by Congress in 2017 to respond to reports of sexual abuse and misconduct. The organization has oversight of hundreds of thousands of athletes, competing in close to 50 different sports, including U.S.A. Basketball.

Ricker is one of 21 coaches in Minnesota who SafeSport determined to be "permanently ineligible" from coaching minors.

"We feel that the federal law was put into place to protect children and victims of child abuse and we want to make sure we promote that," said Dawson Blanck, executive director of the Minnesota Youth Athletic Services.

Blanck helped launch "Trusted Coaches," a training program developed in Minnesota that advocates the use of the SafeSport guidelines.

When asked if a coach, who is banned by SafeSport, should be coaching any youth team, Blanck responded "as a best practice, without a doubt, no."

"It should mean that that individual should never be able to coach anybody that's a minor," Blanck said.

John Sherman founded the Minnesota Magic program more than 30 years ago. He is responsible for a dozen teams and a coaching staff.

Court documents related to Ricker's criminal case confirm he worked with the program before his arrest in 2007.

In an interview with 5 INVESTIGATES, Sherman confirmed that he brought Ricker back on as an assistant coach three years ago.

Sherman is the only person who has oversight of the coaches on the Minnesota Magic, because the organization is not affiliated with AAU or U.S.A. Basketball. Because the club is unaffiliated, it is not required to follow SafeSport guidelines.

During the interview, Sherman said he was unaware of the SafeSport ban, but questioned its authority over his program.

"SafeSport is not the government, is it?" he said. "Is it the court system?"

Sherman said Ricker was "not in danger to anyone in our organization," but acknowledged that he would evaluate whether to take any action regarding the ban.

"I will have to make a decision for the best of the organization, for the best of the children that we serve," Sherman said.

Dayo Oye, 15, never played for Ricker during this season with the Minnesota Magic, but he made the decision to quit after learning about Ricker's past.

"I just think it's wrong," Oye said. "Ricker shouldn't be in control of kids. Period."

As she watched her son shoot hoops at a court in Osceola, Wis. days before Ricker resigned, Nuttall said she was still angry.

"I'm really angry with John Sherman for allowing Matt Ricker to continue being part of Minnesota Magic," Nuttall said. "Shame on him."

Kirsten Swanson can be reached via phone at 651-642-4406 or via email at kswanson@kstp.com.

KSTP's Ashley Clemens contributed to this report.

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Kirsten Swanson

Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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