Pay to Play
April 3, 2009 · Updated 10:19 AM
The revenue generated from those are used to defray costs to play sports. According to South Kitsap School District (SKSD) Athletic Director Ed Santos, the fees specifically go to “defer the cost for transportation to events.”
SKSD began charging participation fees in the late 1990s, Santos said. Now, four of the county’s five districts have them.
North Kitsap High School Athletic Director Trish Olson said her district began charging students to play during the 2005-06 school year, but the fees aren’t exactly new.
Olson said the fees were in place before she joined the district in 1982.
Olympic High School Athletic Director and baseball coach Nate Andrews said his district began charging fees in 2007-08.
He said they began when the district faced a $265,000 shortfall in its co-curricular budget, which funds athletics in the Central Kitsap School District (CKSD). Andrews said that was a result of declining attendance in the district.
Olson conducted a survey of 34 different school districts in the Puget Sound region during the 2007-08 school year, finding that 22 had some form of a participation fee. At $20 per year, North Mason High School had the lowest rate. Life Christian Academy ($110), Olympia ($90) and Vashon ($85) per sport were the highest.
In the North Kitsap School District (NKSD), high-school students pay $75 and middle-schoolers $50 for their first two sports. The third is free. Olson said those fees go to offset transportation expenses, coaches’ salaries and other athletic-related expenses.
There was some concern that those rates might increase when gas prices soared past $4 per gallon last summer, but Olson doesn’t believe they will change in the fall.
“There was no recommendation by the committee that I co-chair to raise or do away with the fees,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a strong inclination to raise fees anyway.”
Santos wasn’t quite as firm regarding fees in the SKSD. They run $60 per sport at South Kitsap High School and half that at the three junior highs.
“If there’s a need where we have to, we’ll look at it,” he said. “It’s hard to extrapolate in this volatile economy to where (how high) we would go.”
Santos also is cognizant of his district’s history. He said the district’s participation fee has been as low as $35 per sport at the high school, but it soared to $200 for each athletic season after the district’s last levy failure in 2000. In addition to those rates, there were no athletics offered at SKSD’s junior highs — Cedar Heights, John Sedgwick and Marcus Whitman — during the 2000-01 school year.
As South Kitsap’s cross-country coach at the time, Santos saw turnout fall from 60 to 35 students in his program.
“It was the kids who thought they had a chance to run varsity,” he said.
At the school, participation fell from 819 students playing a sport in 1999-2000 to 654 the following year. The Wolves didn’t have 800 students turning out for sports again until 2007-08, when 835 participated.
Bremerton is the only school district in Kitsap County that doesn’t assess participation fees beyond the $35 Associated Student Body card athletes are required to purchase.
District athletic director George Duarte calls it a “double-edged sword in some ways.”
That is because, with the exception of football, Bremerton High can’t fund C-team programs. But Duarte said that’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make to keep varsity and junior-varsity programs healthy.
He said he doesn’t believe many students can afford participation fees, which would cause a significant drop in turnout.
“We kind of have to go back and look at the makeup of our kids,” he said. “We struggle with the social-economic status of some of the kids. We talk about it (participation fees) every year, but we don’t want to stifle anyone.”
Duarte said that requires being “creative.” Bremerton plays in the Class 2A/3A Olympic League with three schools — Sequim, Port Angeles and Port Townsend — that require at least a 100-mile round trip.
Because of that, Duarte asks his coaches to schedule non-league games as close as possible to the school. Both the Knights’ boys and girls basketball teams opened their seasons against South Kitsap. Duarte knows that’s not always possible as the schedule locks teams into certain games. For example, Bremerton’s boys basketball team had a district playoff game at Columbia River High School in Vancouver.
If a coach wants to take their team to a camp, tournament or a distant non-league game, Duarte said it becomes that program’s responsibility to raise the money to fund it.
Since he took over South Kitsap’s football program in 1997, coach D.J. Sigurdson took his team to Eastern Washington University’s football camp every summer. That changed last year when the Wolves headed to the University of Puget Sound’s camp, trading the more than 600-mile round trip to Cheney for a commute roughly one-twelfth of that.
Sigurdson said it was “getting cost-prohibitive to go so far away” after the team spent $4,000 to attend Eastern’s camp in 2007.
CKSD spokesman David Beil said his district spent $121,074 to transport athletes to sporting events during the 2007-08 school year. SKSD Director of Transportation Scott Logan said his district has $64,000 budgeted for athletic travel for the 2009-10 school year. He said the largest buses average six to eight miles per gallon.
ATHLETES IN NEED
Local school districts have options for athletes without the means to pay participation fees. Olson said NKSD will waive them for students receiving free or reduced-price lunch.
CKSD has a similar program, according to Andrews, and charges $12 for students with reduced-priced lunches and no cost for those who don’t pay for meals.
“There’s a lot who don’t come to us because they’re prideful,” Andrews said.
Several years ago, Sigurdson and his assistant coach, Joey Dame, developed the “Hire a Wolf” program to help with that at South Kitsap. Sigurdson learned the concept from a colleague at Walla Walla High School.
The program puts students in contact with those seeking work assistance ranging from lawn mowing to moving boxes. The set rate is $10 per hour.
“The idea is not that you go to work for these people and take your girlfriend out to a movie,” Sigurdson said. “This is designed for you to use for the commitments you have for the different sports.”
Deandre Jackson, a 2008 South Kitsap graduate who now attends Eastern Washington, said he had so many opportunities through the program that “I can’t even count.”
“It was a tremendous help,” he said. “I was able to pay for equipment, camp fees and participation fees. I think more kids should take advantage of it.”
Chris Chancellor is the sports editor at the Port Orchard Independent. He can be reached at (360) 876-4414.