Cash-Strapped Schools Shift to Pay-to-Play Sports

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For many years, playing athletics at your school was simple. All kids had to do, depending on the sport, was try out, and if you were good enough — you made the team.

Today at most schools, the parents are responsible for paying for shoes, some equipment and physicals, but things are slowly starting to change.

During these tough economic times, schools are finding it harder to find ways to fund their extra-curricular programs. In Lorain County, Ohio, outside of Cleveland, schools are seeing more and more levies fail and school boards have no choice but to take drastic measures.

As a result, some schools in the county have implemented the pay-to-participate program, which charges student-athletes a fee to participate in extra-curricular activities.

The money that is generated from the pay-to-participate program goes towards the general fund, which includes referee fees, use of facilities, transportation and coaches salaries.

Avon Lake began its program during the 2005-06 school year, after its levy failed. Student-athletes pay $200 for a sport, with a family cap of $350, which means having more than one child playing a sport.

Avon Lake’s Athletic Director Tom Barone said the program has not had a negative effect on the community.

"I think the people here are very understanding of the situation," Barone said. "Today it’s difficult for families to make ends meet.

"We didn’t want to threaten them with this, so we came up with a payment plan that we felt was reasonable for everyone."

Barone added he is not a fan of the program, but said he understands that it is necessary.

"Lets face it, we need money to pay for subjects in the classrooms, but to me I feel our fields are our classrooms too.

"With increases of levies and them not passing its going to be a tough situation."

An Amherst student-athlete pays a one-time participation fee of $400. The fee is for all boys and girls high school sports at all levels, and it includes marching band, drama club and academic team.

Amherst began implementing the program after a levy failed in 2006. Athletic Director Bill Miller, who arrived at Amherst in 2007, said the Amherst community has also embraced the program so far.

"Pay-to-participate always has a negative connection to it," Miller said. "Amherst has stepped up to the plate. This town has a lot of pride and they have come to accept this."

Miller said the biggest concern with the program is enrollment numbers. He said that if kids can not afford their fees, they might transfer to another school.

"My understanding is that the first year they did this it had an affect on the middle school numbers," Miller said. "As far as I know now the numbers have picked back up."

Midview has four different payment plans. Tier I charges high school student-athletes $550 for the first activity, and an additional $100 for two or activities. Those activities include all sports, except for cross-country, cheerleading and Skippers Dance Team, which are part of Tier II.

Tier II charges $250 for the first activity and an extra $25 for two, or activities. Tier III, which includes Performing arts, band and choir, charges $85 for the first activity and an extra $35 for two, or more activities.

There is also a middle school tier, which charges $325 for the first activity and an extra $100 for two, or more activities. The activities include basketball, football, track and field, volleyball and wrestling.

This selected group will have a new member this fall as Avon High School will also implement pay-to-participate. Avon’s school levy failed on May 4, and on June 15, the school board discussed the possibility of implementing the program.

That possibility has become a reality and Avon is hoping the program will help with its cost cutting measures.

Avon Athletic Director Eric Frombach said he wasn’t surprised by the move.

"When levies fail the board has to do what they can to save money and a lot of the time extra-curricular programs are the first thing they look at," Frombach said.

According to Frombach, Avon’s payment plan will be very similar to Avon Lake.

At the high school level, there will be a flat rate of $200 per student, with a family cap of $350. On the middle school level, students will be charged $100, with a family cap of $350.

Frombach said he’s not worried about any backlash from the community about the fees.

"We had a booster club meeting and I told the coaches it was coming," Frombach said. "I couldn’t tell them when, or how much, but they knew it was coming."

With paying for AAU, and private lessons, Frombach added that he will also understand if some people are upset that now they will have to pay for school activities.

"The last thing we want is for a kid to leave our school because he or she can’t afford it," Frombach said. "People have already come up to and offered to help with cost if we need it."

Frombach, Barone and Miller all believe that pay-to-participate is something other schools in the county will turn to sooner than later.

"I think its one of those things where its becoming harder to find ways to pay for this stuff and all these schools have to deal with the cost," Frombach said. "Unless your going to cut sports out across the board, this is the next best alternative."

Vol. 29

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