What If You Can’t Pay to Play?


In the United States, parents spend $671 on average per year to cover the costs of uniforms, registration fees, and private lessons and coaching. At least 1 in 5 ends up spending over $1,000 per child, every year. Last fall we came across this interesting news story that reported;

Many parents report spending up to $3,500 a year to play summer and fall travel baseball; additional showcase tournaments can cost $500 for a weekend slate of three games. Dues at elite volleyball clubs can run $3,500, with another $3,000 required for travel. At soccer clubs around the Bay Area, the costs are high: Some dues exceed $4,000 a year. Uniforms, equipment and travel to distant tournaments are usually not included… Some estimates put the costs associated with youth sports at $5 billion and rising.

The growing “pay to play” culture of youth sports is turning what used to be considered a describe the imagenormal passage of childhood into a privilege for the few who can actually afford to pay. Pay-to-play fees are preventing lower-income children from participating in middle and high school sports, a study from the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital shows. Nearly 1 in 5 low-income parents reported that cost forced their child to cut back on sports. 19% of families in the study that earned less than $60,000 per year reported the cost of sports led to at least one of their children not participating. Meanwhile, among households earning more than $60,000 per year, just 5% of parents said cost had a negative impact on their child’s participation.

A study of 558 Michigan high schools found that fees up to $100 caused a 10% decrease in the number of students coming out to play. Charges up to $200 precipitated a 20%  decline.

For years, especially in public high schools, “pay-to-play” fees for athletes were negligible (if they existed at all) and were simply designed to help the school cover basic costs. But as Washington State has absorbed $1.9 billion in cuts to education since 2009, sports administrators have begun to lean more and more on parents to cover the cost of school athletics.

“You can see it — the ones whose families are in hard times are just not coming out,” said Chris Kunzelman, a parent in the Kent School District, which charges $100 per sport, plus $30 for a mandatory student-activities card. “If we’re making this all about the money then we’re not really doing what public education was designed to be — the same opportunity for every kid,” Kunzelman said.  In Kent, where sports were free 2011, 182 fewer kids came out for sports after the $100 fee went into effect.

There is no government regulation over pay-to-play fees and prices range widely in each district. For instance, it costs $275 to play basketball for Redmond High School in Washington State, meanwhile students at Bothell pay $140. At Bellevue high school they pay $100, and in Renton, $75. Most districts offer financial breaks, generally half-price, to low-income students. But families must apply for those waivers in order to get the break.

Sports parents – how are you dealing with the rising costs of youth sports? Have you had to take your child out for a season in order to balance the budget?