Time to pay up or sit down | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Time to pay up or sit down

Column by Steve Yingling, Tribune staff report

Reading about other school districts’ experiences with pay-to-play athletics doesn’t paint a pretty picture for Lake Tahoe Unified School District’s parents and students.

Once districts start charging students a fee to play each sport, the plan dries like concrete, staying in place like a relative who comes for a visit with a suitcase and jammed Ryder truck.

Lake Tahoe Unified School District is considering charging each student athlete at South Tahoe High School and South Tahoe Middle School $25 per sport, but an exact amount hasn’t been determined.

Considering the way our economy has transformed this community into the haves and the have-nots, the tragedy is that the lower-class families may not be able to afford to pay the fees — unless a financial hardship program is instituted.

Some of these financially strapped families might have more than one child to fund as well. One way to help out the families who have multiple children or multi-sport participants is to set a yearly cap. If they play sports in the fall and winter, give them a spring sport for free. If a family has two children participating in sports, make them pay for only one.

But who is going to administrate this and fill out all of the necessary paperwork? Will the district have to take more money out of the budget just to manage pay to play?

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If pay to play is set up like it is in one community in Massachusetts, then we may not have varsity, JV and freshman football teams next season. At Oakmont Regional High School, each football player paid $1,000 to play the game.

In Anoka-Henneppin, Minn., student athletes paid $290 to play football and $332 for basketball. That’s almost enough to fund a men’s team in one of the local recreation basketball leagues.

My other fear is that the programs that are already fighting for numbers will fold. Track and field, softball and cross country skiing immediately come to mind.

Hopefully the school board can keep the fees similar across the board so the cost doesn’t determine which sports students play.

Youth soccer and baseball have seen their numbers shrink in recent years. Families moving off the hill to more economical towns is partly to blame, but those leagues have also raised their fees.

The South Lake Tahoe Youth Basketball League sponsored by the city of South Lake Tahoe Parks and Recreation Department has had a great response in its two years of operation, in part because of the nominal cost to play — $30 per player.

That fee may be too small to make a dent on the school district’s predicted $2.7 million budget shortfall, though.

“Twenty-five to $30 is reasonable,” said Syd Brown, a 16-year coach/teacher at South Tahoe Middle School. “What about the families who can’t afford to pay? We’re not going to get those kids and that’s unfortunate. Families who can afford it, they’ll pay; the diehard kids will find a way, but the kids on the bubble thinking about going out for a sport, that’s going to hurt those kids in the long run.”

On a more serious note: What will these kids do to fill the void when sports are removed from their lives? The possibilities are frightening.

Coaches’ roles may change as well. Parents who pay additional fees for their kids to play may be compelled to demand more playing time for their children. And who would blame them?

Adults in this community have always been more generous than the mother of a litter of puppies in assisting with school fund-raisers. They have reached into their shallow pockets, even when there was more lint than money at the bottom. They shouldn’t have to reach deeper when they are already paying for these programs.

Ultimately, pay to play might force more families to leave the area and cause additional damage to enrollment revenues.

But I guess paying to play is better than the alternative: elimination of athletics.

— Tribune Sports Editor Steve Yingling can be reached at (530) 542-8010 or syingling@tahoedailytribune.com

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