Pay-To-Play Affecting Participation Of Michigan Athletes

June 29, 2012 /
Heritage Media, Jeff Papworth

On the surface, it was just a baseball game pitting Manchester and Clinton.

There were students taking in advice from their respective coaches, families given an avenue to cheer on their teams and — at the heart of it all — the student athletes participating on the field of play.

It is an experience that happens across the national landscape, and something many agree is beneficial for kids priming for adulthood.

“Being involved in sports in high school and coaching for the 37 years I’ve been at Manchester, yes, I think it’s important,” Manchester Athletic Director Wes Gall said. “I think there are kids in our school that we keep in school because they are associated with athletic teams.”

Saline Athletic Director Rob White added, “It teaches how to be a teammate; How to work hard; How to be dedicated; How to be loyal; How to deal with adversity; How to deal with frustration. So there are so many life lessons that are taught through athletics.”

Yet nearly one-in-five parents, with an income of less than $60,000, report their children have decreased their level of activity in scholastic sports because of cost, according to the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

The cost not only lies in the equipment for the sport, but also the cost of athletic fees that some schools have started requiring for participation.

According to the respondents of the poll, 61 percent of children playing middle or high school sports were charged a fee. The average fee is $93. A fee of $150 or more was charged to 21 percent of students.

“I can see that as being a problem,” Gall said. “And it’s not just because of a player’s fee. It’s because all of the other cost associated with that too.

“When you’re playing football, it’s not just your shoes. You’re buying, maybe, special pads here or there to help. Maybe you don’t like the school’s mouth guard.”

Equipment, uniforms and additional team fees, drive the average cost for a child’s sports participation to $381, according to the poll.

Shelli Gary has three kids and two play sport at Dexter. Like many other parents, including Donice Webb — who has a kid that plays sports at Chelsea and Lori Arvidson — who has kids that play sports at Ann Arbor schools, Gary sees the need for schools to charge an athletic fee.

“It was a surprise at first, but I understand why they do it,” Gary said. “It costs money to run a good sports program. You’ve got equipment that needs to be replaced. You’ve got coaching transportation, uniforms all of that.”

One parent, who was against it, was Shelli’s husband, Mike Gary, who made his words known as soon as he she finished speaking.

“We pay taxes for kids to get an education and athletics is part of the education,” he said. “Just like drama is. School is more than just the classroom. It’s on the basketball court. It’s in the gymnasium. It’s in the theater, it’s on the debate team, all of those things, contribute to a rich high school experience.”

A position statement made by the Michigan board of Education in 1972 states: “School districts may not make charges for any required or elective course,” but “school districts may charge fees for extracurricular activities when students are not graded or evaluated and academic credit is not given, or for any activity in which participation is not required for obtaining a diploma.”

Ann Arbor, Belleville, Chelsea, Dexter, Manchester, and Saline are among the local communities that charge students to participate.

Dexter charges $100 per sport for high school students, with a $300 limit per family. The district has donors, who can aid kids, who cannot afford the fee.

The district also is in the process of a potential increase in athletic fees. But it has to be presented and approved by the board of education first.

Dexter Superintendent Mary Marshall said the cost of their athletic program is a half million dollars per year.

“It’s a big number out of a $34 million budget,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is find the right balance of supporting athletic, supporting the classroom, making sure our students have opportunities, and trying to balance it all budget wise. It means we’re having to make some difficult choices.”

Saline’s Rob White and John Young, athletic director of Ann Arbor Skyline, called athletic fees “a necessary evil.”

Ann Arbor high schools have students pay $150 for the first sport, $75 for the second and the third is free of charge. Anyone who is on free or reduced lunch has athletic fees waved. In a hardship case, where a parent loses their job, for instance, there is a waiver process.

“I don’t like it,” Young said. “I grew up in a family of five kids, and we didn’t make a lot of money. If I had grown up in this atmosphere it would have been difficult, but we probably would have qualified for a reduced lunch.”

It is $250 for Saline High School students to participate in athletics and $200 at the middle school per year. Free and reduced lunch students play for free. Payment plans are also available. They have had athletic fees for the last six years.

“I don’t like the price at all. I don’t think anybody likes a participation fee,” White said. “Considering the financial climate that were facing here in Saline and also in the state of Michigan, it’s like I said, a necessary evil.”

Ypsilanti and Milan are two of the only schools that let all students play free of charge.

Ypsilanti Superintendent Dedrick Martin said a fee has been considered, but in a community, which he said sports means “a lot,” the school decided against it.

“We decided it was not right for our district,” Martin said. “In the athletic department, no one was recommending it.”

More important than the popularity of Ypsilanti’s love of sports, was the 67 percent of students that he said either qualify for free or reduced lunch.

“Everything is on the table,” he said. “But am I spending a lot of time looking at athletics? No. It’s not even one percent of the total amount of money we need to save.”

He said they are facing over $9 million in structural deficits.

Ypsilanti track and field coach Torin Moore said his program would dissolve, if students were charged.

“(Athletic fees) are talked about, but I don’t see it happening,” he said. “If that’s the case, and we charge for track, we won’t have a track team.”

“If it doesn’t come out of our pockets, they won’t have it.”

Chelsea and Ann Arbor schools are in their second year of charging students a participation fee.

Chelsea high school charges $100 a year per high school student, with a cap of $300 for families of more than three children. Scholarships are given out to kids, who do not have enough money to pay for the fee. Students on reduced lunch pay $10. It is $50 for middle school students.

“We as a district were faced certainly with, like many districts are, budget cuts,” Chelsea athletic director Mike Kapolka said. “We did community forums to kind of figure out would the community be supportive of this. We got input from our coaches as well, before we made the decision of what we’re going to set the fee at.”

Chelsea men’s track coach Eric Swager sees no problems with the athletic fees.

“The goal of the athletic department is so every kid can play if they really want to,” he said. ”I haven’t heard of any stories that a kid has, and I may be wrong, but I haven’t heard of any stories where a kid that really wanted to compete and couldn’t solely because of the money.”

Manchester schools enacted a student fee, in 1999, which was earlier than most. For their high school, the first sport requires a $100 fee, the second sport is $80 and the third of the year is $70. It is $10 less at each level for middle school students. There is a group in Manchester called “Manchester Friends” that helps kids, who are struggling to pay the fee.

Gall had to come up with a solution in 1999, or the middle school would have to eliminate all of its sports programs. He did not want to go through with that. He still remembered when fall sports were cancelled in 1980 because the millage failed.

“It was the toughest fall of teaching that I had,” Gall said. “The discipline problems were up. The attitude of the kids going to school was not good. They didn’t look forward to coming to school.

“Sports give something to the school to give it some school pride and have something to wrap their hands around other than just a book. Education is No. 1. It should always be No. 1, but this is something that helps every school system.”

Most athletic directors agrees on two other issues. They said the school made sure to put in place a fee that would not discourage a single student from participating. Additionally, contributing money to an athletic program, by way of fees, does not give students a right to be granted a certain allotment of playing time.

“We were very clear that we wanted to call it ‘pay to participate,’ ” Kapolka said. “Participation in an athletic team and playing are two very different things. So your fee gets you the opportunity to participate with the team. It doesn’t necessary mean it’s going to equate to playing time.”

The University of Michigan poll also showed 5 percent of children in families earning more than $60,000 decreased participation in sports because of the cost. Overall, 12 percent felt the effect of the cost of school sports, which led to a decrease in participation in at least one of their children. It was 19 percent of children in families that make under $60,000.

Looking back at that baseball game between Manchester and Clinton, Curt Fielder’s son, Jake Fielder was a member of the Flying Dutch. Curt came to watch his son play that afternoon .

He said the fees are just a “sign of the times.”

“Educational money has been cut back so far that the money we do have needs to be spent in the classroom,” he said. “The extra-curricular activities are great and the kids are excited to be playing in them, but at the end of the day, when they take those test, whether they can hit a home run or not is not going to help them test better on that math or science test.”

more here:

Leave a Reply