By Corey McMahon and Parijat Jha

At Upper Arlington High School, the participation fee for each sport is $85. Can you imagine having to pay more than six times as much for all sports at the high school? This could be the case next year for Pickerington schools, where the district is set to impose the highest pay-to-participate fees in central Ohio.

According to the minutes of the March 14 Pickerington Local Schools Board of Education meeting, the district plans to charge $500 per sport at the high school level and $325 at the middle school level next year. This came after the Pickerington Board of Education considered a proposal that would have charged $650 for some sports, including golf, swimming and basketball.

Pickerington’s need to raise costs in order to balance budgets combined with the budgetary problems of schools across the state raises questions about the appropriate cost to families for participation in athletics, the affect such costs could have on student participation in athletics and ultimately, the importance and role of athletics in the lives of students.

Financial problems are not new for scholastic sports programs in central Ohio. In 2009, following a series of failed levy attempts to raise more funds for sports and other extracirriculars activities, the Southwestern City School District shut down all extracurricular activities, including sports.

The situation left many students with questions about their athletic careers and many students left the district to continue playing. Others formed their own, informal teams, as senior Johanna Welling reported in December 2009 for Arlingtonian in an article entitled “Running their own show.”

Sports programs returned after a levy passed a year later; however, it also imposed heftier fees for participants. This year, Southwestern City School District students hoping to play a sport must pay $150 per sport. Additionally, students must pay $20 for clubs such as student council or mock trial.

Elsewhere in central Ohio, the Gahanna-Jefferson School District changed policies after an operating levy failed last November. The district will charge $200 per sport beginning in the 2011-12 school year.

With high fees and pay-to-play set-ups seemingly all around Upper Arlington, some wonder whether athletics at UAHS are destined for similar systems; some wonder if UA is practically already there.

Senior Andrew Marrioti, captain of the track team, prepares to set off.

Among those people is senior Alex West who was captain of the ice hockey team this year.

“I think, unfortunately, that money can sometimes be a barrier for kids playing sports—even sometimes here in UA,” he said.

West, like many other students including his co-captain senior David Whalen, is forced to play for a club, rather than for a team sponsored by the school. Costs for club sports, such as ice hockey, lacrosse and crew in the fall, can be much higher.

“The total fees were $2250 for varsity players, and $1900 for junior varsity,” Whalen said.

Senior Cam Williams, a lacrosse player, disagreed.

“It doesn’t seem like lacrosse is overly expensive,” he said. “The travel is the most expensive part.”

According to Williams, lacrosse players paid $275 for a trip to Maryland over spring break. The fee paid for buses, hotels and other team expenses, but came on top of other costs and fundraising.

Senior Grace Crumrine, a track and cross-country runner, expresses concerns about the costs of her sports. According to her, athletes in her sports paid fees of $90 and $125 (for track and cross-country, respectively). These fees were imposed in addition to the athletic participation fee that all athletes in school-sponsored sports must pay.

“These fees were in addition to the athletic fee,” Crumrine said, “which is why it is so ridiculous.”

West said that he believes these athletics costs can deter potential student-athletes and said he has seen it happen.

“I know a couple people who have abstained from playing because of the fees,” he said. “Some people within UA, but even more who played with me before and stopped playing at other schools because of price.”

According to senior boys crew captain Perry Kleinhenz, when costs get too high some sports have scholarship funds set up to help students participate.

“Quite a few teams have scholarship funds set up for people who would like to play but cannot afford to,” Kleinhenz said.

Measures can also be taken to allieviate costs for school-sponsored sports.

“My coach said you can email someone if you cant pay the $85 athletic fee and they’ll waive it for you,” Crumrine said. “But I don’t know anyone who did it.”

In Southwestern City Schools, sports saw a decrease in players following fee hikes, according to a Columbus Dispatch article by Charlie Boss entitled “About half of sports in South-Western schools see a drop in players.” The article attributes the drop to fees and reports that Franklin Heights High School had to cut programs, including freshman football and cross country, because of low student involvement.

To raise money without imposing more costs on players, many teams turn to extensive fundraising efforts to fill the gap between money earned from fees and team expenditures.

Senior Cam Williams warms up before practice.Most students are aware of the largest sports fundraisers at the high school. The lacrosse teams sell mulch; the baseball team sells subs. Fundraisers like carwashes or goods sales are common among many teams, also. Whalen said fundraisers such as the ad sales for the hockey team program provide financial relief from hockey fees.

“Ads sold for our programs come of the individual’s fees,” Whalen said. “The average player pays $1134. It just fluctuates depending on how hard they work to reduce costs.”

Williams said that the fundraisers the lacrosse team puts on are crucial for the teams financing.

“The way we fund most of the teams costs is through fundraising,” he said.

According to Whalen, the cost someone pays for hockey is entirely in their own hands.

“On average people paid for about half of their costs by selling ads,” he said. “Some people made the entire $2000, some people don’t sell many [ads at all].”

West agreed about the importance of fundraisers for his ice hockey team, and added that he thinks these fundraisers can cause problems for players.

“I think it has caused stress for some people who play,” he said. “They are always worried about money and paying for ice hockey. It’s also always a question of working a fundraiser to raise a lot of money or having to pay out of pocket.”

Such stress can detract from the attention that those students should be putting towards other activities.

“[For many, it can] be hard to concentrate on school or just playing [a sport] when you constantly have a car wash on a weekend or need to sell candy bars or whatever different sports do,” West said.

The lacrosse team’s mulch sale is among the largest sports fundraisers at the high school, Williams said.

“Selling mulch is a big part of lacrosse, both boys and girls,” he said. “Overall we sold 22,000 bags this year and made a $2.50 profit on each bag. These funds cover most expenses.”

It seems there is some question as to the level of fundraising for sports at the high school and how that fundraising could affect students. If other districts are a sign of what’s to come, the trends suggest the students may be asked to foot more of the bill or do more with less. •