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Athletes pay the price to participate in sports

March 11, 2002|BY ANDREW SCHOTZ

Sometimes, the bills appear out of left field.

This one was for $700. Tim Sites, the athletic director at Berkeley Springs (W.Va) High School, said that's what it cost the school to replace baseball bats to meet a new standard imposed by the National Federation of High Schools.

Berkeley Springs was glad to send 11 of its 14 wrestlers to the state championship meet last month, but that, too, came at a price.

Sites said it cost $3,000 to send the wrestlers to Huntington, W.Va., for four nights and three days, even with four wrestlers per hotel room and parents providing transportation.

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The state will reimburse the school district $600, Sites said.

With expenses like that, it might be time to ask students to pay. Sites said the likely amount would be $30.

Philosophically, though, his answer is a firm "no."

"I think they shouldn't have to pay," he said. "It's a public institution with public tax dollars."

But reality looms.

"We're scraping by," Sites said, "by the skin of our teeth."

Pay-to-play is a decision Tri-State school districts must make.

Washington County charges each student-athlete $40 per sports season, and is thinking about raising the fee to $45.

Frederick County, Md., charges $50.

There is a $10 annual fee per sport for Greencastle-Antrim (Pa.) High School athletes to compete, but no charge in the Chambersburg, Tuscarora and Southern Fulton, Pa., districts.

While Jefferson High School in Jefferson County, W.Va., does not have a fee, Berkeley County, W.Va., does. It's $15 for a full year of sports.

Expenses are significant, said Berkeley County Deputy Superintendent Frank Aliveto. It costs $150 for referees at a soccer game. A trip to Morgantown, W.Va., on a school bus is $300 to $400.

At Hedgesville (W.Va.) High School, there are more sports teams than ever. Student interest is high. The school has added five freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams in the last five or six years, Athletic Director Ron Allen said.

The athletic fee brings in $3,500 to $4,500 per high school in Berkeley County.

"That doesn't even begin to help," Aliveto said. Still, "we're not going to ask kids to pay any more."

At Musselman High School in Inwood, W.Va., one of Berkeley County's three high schools, Charlie Cline refuses to ask athletes to pay even the standard $15.

"We've never done that," said Cline, the assistant principal in charge of athletics and attendance. "And unless we go broke, we won't."

Aliveto and Cline's counterparts at Martinsburg and Hedgesville high schools were surprised to hear that because the athletic fee is required throughout the district.

Sports revenue

High schools rely heavily on ticket sales for sports revenue.

Football and basketball tickets bring in the most money, Allen said. Tickets are slightly cheaper for baseball games and volleyball matches.

In contrast, spectators aren't allowed at golf matches and admission is free for almost all cross-country and track meets.

Jim Carpenter, the athletic director at Martinsburg High School, called athletic fee revenue "a pittance" and predicted that ticket prices would go up.

"We can't make it with what we take in," he said.

Sports are in a different league than other school activities, such as band.

Local schools surveyed last week do not charge students to be in band. Trips, though, are extra.

Usually, fund-raisers cover at least some costs for band trips, said Boyd Michael III, director of secondary education for Washington County Public Schools. Booster clubs also help out.

There are three categories of school activities, said Lynn Carr, the athletic supervisor for Frederick County (Md.) Public Schools: curricular, or part of instruction; cocurricular, or complementing instruction; and extracurricular, or outside of instruction.

"Band and chorus could be curricular or cocurricular," Carr said. "Band trips and certainly athletics would be extracurricular."

However, Dick Heckman, the Tuscarora School District athletic director, said his district's school board saw sports as cocurricular and decided they are worth funding.

Athletic boosters - community clubs that raise money for sports programs - play "an important part" in keeping the program running, Heckman said.

Sports aren't supposed to turn a profit, but ideally, they pay their own way, or come close.

"If we break even, we're tickled to death," said Don Hetzel, the Jefferson High School athletic director.

The transportation fund shortfall in Washington County will be $12,000 to $15,000 at the end of the school year, according to Eugene Martin, the school system's supervisor of health, physical education and athletics.

This fits in with the trend of the last several years. Over the last six years combined, it's been more than $44,000.

Instituting the fee

Martin said the school district struggled with a tight budget in the early 1990s, before students had to pay to play sports.

One possibility was cutting teams - perhaps track or tennis. But that could have created new problems with the balance of boys' and girls' teams.

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