Does ‘pay-to-play’ sideline the poor?

Posted at 7:42 PM, Feb 04, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-05 06:31:38-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)--Virginia Commonwealth University graduate student Tre Smith credits high school basketball with his success in college.

Smith, who’s pursing a degree in sports management, says sports at Highland Springs High School helped him develop physically and emotionally, and gain invaluable leadership skills.

“Growing up, that’s all we had was sports,” Smith says.  “Instead of going out and getting into trouble, we stayed together and we practiced together every day.”

Smith questions whether he would have been able to play high school sports if his single-mother had been required to pay a sports fee for him to participate.

“It would be devastating,” Smith says.

However, in an era of tight funding, school districts across the country are considering sports fees to help balance budgets.

The Hanover County School board, facing a $5.4 million budget shortfall, is seriously considering a pay-to-play option for middle and high school athletes, as an alternative to firing teachers and increasing classroom sizes.

The idea is not sitting well with students or parents, who packed into the county’s last school board meeting to voice their concerns.

Hanover parent Cathy Easter says she doesn’t blame school officials who are being forced to consider athletic fees.

“We are absolutely down to the bare bones,” Easter argues.

Easter says she hopes The Board of Supervisors will provide more funding so school leaders aren’t forced to choose between teachers and implementing a pay-to-play rule for middle and high school sports programs.

VCU Sports Leadership professor Brendan Dwyer says that unfortunately several school districts across the country--including those in Ohio, Michigan and California--have been forced to implement sporting fees.

Dwyer says research shows the fees are pushing many lower income students to the sidelines, no matter how small the fee.

“Whether it’s a $75 fee or a $400 fee per sport, either way you’re going to have people who are having trouble making ends meet,” he says.

Dwyer says some school districts have waivers for low income families, or capped fees for students who play multiple sports, but Dwyer says the fees are still having a negative impact on participation.

Hanover County Superintendent, Dr. Jamelle Wilson, will present budget proposals to the PTA on Monday night at Mechanicsville Elementary School.  The public will also be able to address school board leaders at its next meeting on February 12th.

Hanover School Board Chair, Ann Hagan Gladstone, says the board will consider several proposals before voting on a final budget on February 19th.