When Did Sports Become ‘Pay to Play’ Programs?

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Sports are big in the United States. An estimated 40-some million kids play one or more sports every year. I’ve written before on various topics, such as how I believe adults have ruined kid-sports in America and how greed has tempted many adults to place young athletes’ health and physical conditions at risk, just to make a school look good, earn a gold medal, or make the big bucks.

Today, I’m thinking about sports again, more specifically, how many sports programs in public schools have become “pay to play” systems. Granted, public schools are not legally obligated to provide sports, and language clubs or other extra-curricular activities to students. Also granted, such programs cost money, sometimes a lot of money, especially if it’s a Quad A school with say, 100 or more kids on a football team, competing at champion levels.

However, sports, but not only sports, as I have noticed a trend in other areas as well, which I’ll touch on in a minute, have gone from having a central focus of teaching kids about athletic skills, teamwork, perseverance and all the other benefits a good program should provide, to being exploited and turned into (just another) money-making machine for school systems that are deeply in debt.

Let’s set sports aside for a moment. What about school supplies? It used to be that kids would show up for the first day of school and everything they’d need for the year (or at least, first semester) would be neatly arranged on their desk, courtesy of “the system.” Nowadays, it never fails that when summer begins to wane and parents start thinking about back-to-school things, I hear parents lamenting how expensive it is to fulfill the “school supply” list that is sent home for each of their children. In fact, many parents tell me that, not only do they have to supply their own children’s supplies, they are also required to purchase items, such as tissues, water and other things for their children’s classrooms.

When sports become “pay to play,” undue financial strain is heaped upon families, especially those with more than one child playing more than one sport. I personally know parents who have sadly stated that they were pulling their kids out of sports because they simply couldn’t afford the “pay to play” fees. Even though the school their children attend sent a letter saying that scholarships were available for families who couldn’t afford the fees, many parents choose to not play rather than ask for financial assistance.

Parents already fork out a lot of money for their children’s sports supplies. Baseball families need gloves, mitts, spikes, and bats while track and field kids spend hundreds on good shoes according to their field of specialty. Thus, if you have a son or daughter who sprints but also runs mid-distance, you’re looking at approximately $200 or more for shoes, per child. Add to that the money parents inevitably spend for gasoline to attend away events, plus concession stand food because no one has time to cook when they are never home, and sports quickly go from being fun to a tremendous financial burden that leaves many parents wondering whether they’ll be able to continue the next season or will have to take a break so they can pay some bills.

I think that if schools are going to make sports and other activities, “pay to play,” then there should at least be stateinstituted guidelines to limit the fees and set certain standards for multiple child families or multiple sports, or both. Right now, I have three teenagers running on the same Cross Country and track and field team. The school district started “pay to play” last year, so for us that equates to $300 per year for our two chosen sports. I’m thankful that we’re able to scrounge it up (I also have generous daughters who are willing to put in some of their own hard-earned work money to help.) but I’m saddened to think of the many families whose kids will no longer play instruments, join clubs or play sports because the “pay to play” fees tip their financial trains too far off track to make ends meet at home.

Perhaps the “pay to play” system will prompt a turning back of the hands of time where sports were more of a pickup adventure, played on empty lots, in parking lots and in backyards. I hate to think there are children out there who might want to play on a school team but won’t be able to because it’s become too expensive.

Does your district charge “pay to play” fees? If so, how do you feel about that? Has it helped your school alleviate debt? Has it pushed certain families out of the sports program? Leave a comment and tell us about your experiences with “pay to play” activity programs in the public schools.


Writer Bio: Judy Dudich

Judy Dudich resides in the beautiful woods of Pennsylvania, where 24 acres of land and a home-office provide the perfect setting for her children’s home-education and her own homesteading and business ventures. Life is full of blessings (and challenges!) for Judy, as a wife, mother of 10 and Grammy to six. She is a published author, whose book, “I Surrender/A Study Guide for Women” continues to encourage and support others in Christian family lifestyles throughout the world. Judy has also previously worked in the online speaking circuit. Her passion for permaculture, re-purposing, foraging and organic gardening fills her days with learning and adventure that she loves to share.

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