Pay to Participate

Saturday’s Columbus Dispatch had a commentary by Dispatch writer, Michael Arace.  The commentary was titled: “We’ll regret letting school sports get too expensive.”  In the column Mr. Arace discussed pay-to-participate fees in the Southwestern City Schools.  You’ll remember several years ago Southwestern cancelled all school sports after a levy defeat as a way to save money and protect the core academics for all students.  That decision made the national news and was followed by HBO’s Real Sports television series.  Southwestern has reinstated sports but has a $150.00 per sport pay-to-participate fee and a cap of $500.00 per student per school year.  This fee offsets the cost of sports to the school district, but does not completely pay for sports.

Most school districts in Central Ohio have some form of pay-to-participate.  As school budgets continue to shrink, athletics and other co-curriculars are not required as part of the core curriculum, and they do not affect all students, thus, they are an area where school districts often make reductions in order to preserve other academic programs.  In Worthington high school athletic teams require a pay to participate fee of $125.00 per sport and a cap per student at $375.00 per year.  Several sports are completely parent funded.  Ice Hockey, Water Polo, Bowling, etc…are fnded completely by parents, and in the case of Ice Hockey, fees for equipment, transportation, coaches and ice time reach into the thousands of dollars.

This is where we are today.  Some people think that this makes the most sense.  The fees support the programs that your child accesses and they amount to a user tax.  Those who don’t desire to participate don’t have to pay.  The downside is that cost can prohibit some students from participation and we know that students benefit from participating in co-curriculars.  Whether it be athletics, music, theatre, or another student club, students are better served when they are connecting with a caring adult, and with like-minded peers after school.  I once worked for a Superintendent who would often say, “13-18 year old kids are going to be busy.  They’re either going to be busy in positive school sponsored activities, or they are going to be busy running the street, but for certain they will be busy.”  I think this is true.  That’s just how kids are wired.  Certainly it’s possible to find something outside of school that is positive.  Church, scouts, a job, etc..  But for most kids, school is still the hub of their social and academic time.

As humans we all look at things through our own lens.  My personal lens is one where I believe athletics literally saved my life.  School was very hard for me.  As a fourth grader I was identified as having a learning disability and began to be served in a special education classroom.  Reading, writing and math were just plain hard.  Athletics on the other hand, came easy.  On the athletic field I gained confidence.  Eventually that confidence began to translate into the classroom.  I still graduated in the bottom half of my high school class, but the confidence gained in athletics, as well as the grit and determination that was learned, eventually won out.  School has never come easy for me, but I fear that if the cost of athletics continues to rise, others to whom co-curriculars are the positive that keeps them engaged, will not be as lucky as I was.

The Superintendent I referenced earlier used to say something else.  He talked often about his grandmother who was a high school athlete in western Ohio during the great depression.  He would explain that even in the great depression the community valued and funded the athletic programs.  There was no pay-to-participate.  Times are better today, but I’m not hopeful that pay-to-participate will go away.  I am, like Mr. Arace,  hopeful that further increases in these costs will be avoided.

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