HARRISBURG, Pa. -

Child athletes will be better protected against coaches and other sports officials who seek to sexually prey on them under a new law introduced by state Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery) that was signed Thursday in Harrisburg by Gov. Tom Corbett.

“Coaches and other sports officials who sexually prey on youth athletes will face stricter penalties under this new law,” Vereb said in a news release.

“This sends a clear signal to these sexually deviant criminals to keep their hands off Pennsylvania’s youth athletes.”

Vereb’s House Bill 112 was introduced following the conviction of William “Billy” Gordon, a private volleyball coach and personal trainer from Montgomery County, for having an unlawful sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl he coached and mentored.

If the girl in that situation had been 16 years old – the legal age of consent in Pennsylvania – the prosecutors may have been more limited in the charges they could have filed against Gordon.

The new law closes that loophole so that coaches and other sports officials who use their position to prey on 16- or 17-year-old athletes can be prosecuted as severely as those who prey on athletes 15 years old or younger.

The law creates the offense of “sexual assault by a sports official,” which carries a maximum penalty of up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.

While Pennsylvania law prohibits sexual misconduct against children, there is no specific provision addressing sexual assault by a coach, trainer or other sports official, who often gain the trust of children through their positions.

Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed, who worked with Vereb on the legislation, was in Harrisburg for the bill signing in the state Capitol.

The chairmen of the House Judiciary Committee – Reps. Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin) and Thomas Caltagirone (D-Berks) – were there to see the bill signed into law.

“A lot of people played important roles to make this law possible,” Vereb said.

“This is a sign that the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, can work together to do what is best for our children and our commonwealth.”

The new law will take effect in 60 days.