Part I: Pay-To-Play Already Here In Illinois: The Days of "Free" High School Sports Are Gone

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A little over a week ago in the prep section of USA Today, an article ran whose subject is likely to become a hot topic amongst schools and their surrounding communities as Illinois' economic mismanagement collides head on with school districts trying to meet financial responsibilities.

The article, With budgets tight, pay-to-play fees gain currency as way to avoid cuts by Jim Halley, details the current approach of requiring fees to be paid by athletes interested in playing a sport for their high school.

Dec 11, 2009; Gardena, CA, USA; Serra quarterback Conner Preston (11) throws a pass in the CIF Southern Section Northwest Division championship against Oaks Christian at Serra High. Photo via Newscom

One major concern over this escalating practice, one I share, centers on the possible loss of opportunity to athletes whose families cannot afford the fees. It was one thing when participating in high school sports went from free (or minimal fee), as it was back in my day, to a $15 or $25 registration fee.

This $15-$25 scenario seems to be going the way of the dinosaur as Halley's article reports that fees "at four Farmington, Michigan public high schools" have recently been raised "to $300."

Presently there is a wide range of fees with each district charging based on their own financial need. Personally, I could see costs to parents going beyond the $300 mentioned above if budgets continue to be stressed over the next several years.

Jan. 22, 2010 - St. Petersburg, Florida, USA - SCOTT KEELER | Times.SP_317384_KEEL_SOCCER_ST. PETERSBURG (01/22/2010) 8. Members of the Berkeley Preparatory School Girls Soccer team, (in white), and members of the Clearwater Central Catholic High School Girls Soccer team greet each other at mid field prior to their 3A-10 District Final game at St. Petersburg Catholic High School, Friday night in St. Petersburg. [SCOTT KEELER, Times.

With the type of expense we are discussing, and the possibility of it continuing to accelerate, even middle class families will be stretching budgets to meet costs for their kids to play high school sports. Just imagine a family with 3, 4, or 5 interested athletes of multiple sports.


Bringing some Illinois relevancy to our discussion, the high school where I teach (Downers Grove South) is facing similar budgetary issues. We do require athletic fees and have done so for many years.

If I am not mistaken, our registration fees were around $40 per athlete at the beginning of this decade. Over the last 9 or so years they have risen to $105 (last year's cost), with an expected increase of $10 for the 2010-2011 school year. This brings the cost up to $115 - per season.

Yep, you read that right, a $115 fee is per athlete, and per season, ouch!!! 

December 1, 2008 Anaheim, CA..Tyler Lamb #20 of Mater Dei in action against Loara...The Mater Dei Monarchs of Santa Ana California have what is considered the finest starting five lineup in the nation for Prep Basketball...All five of the Monarchs starting players are bound for Division I college programs...Mater Dei defeats Loara in the Prep High School Basketball game 103-45 at Loara High School in Anaheim, California..Mater Dei defeats Loara 103-45.Louis Lopez/CSM Photo via Newscom

Something else you should be made aware of is that that fee our student athletes' families pay does not include the equipment they need for practice (shoes, practice clothes, etc.), booster fees - many of our coaches rely on their booster clubs for financial support, and anything else that comes up (as it always does).

It is not $115 and everything is provided type of a fee.

Don't miss Part II of Pay-To-Play Already Here In Illinois: The Days of "Free" High School Sports Are Gone.


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