News

To play, athletes will have to pay

By CASEY OLSON

Sports editor

When turning out for sports teams next school year in the Federal Way school district, students will need more than talent to make the cut.

District officials announced last month that student athletes at the secondary level will be charged participation fees to be on a team. The district hopes to raise $445,000 a year to help offset a $6.4 million budget shortfall because of the expected loss of state funding, declining enrollment and increased fixed costs.

Officials are unwilling to give an approximate amount of payment per sport at this time, said Mark Davidson, assistant superintendent.

“We really haven’t figured out what is going to happen yet,” he said. “Our priority is to keep all the programs we currently have, which would require students and families to pay.”

The school district is looking at several pay-to-play options, including a one-time fee, paying separate fees for every sports season or lessening charges for middle school, C-team and junior varsity teams.

“We are coming up with recommendations and they will go through the process,” Davidson said. “This is obviously a direction we didn’t want to go with.”

The 2003-04 Federal Way Public Schools budget is set to be approved by the School Board by August.

Increasingly, school districts in Washington and across the country are starting to charge participation fees to be a part of a sports team. It’s a trend that some officials say is a danger to the concept of public education and the overall effort to get more kids involved in athletic activities.

“This certainly lends one to believe that the students participating will decrease,” said Doug Patrick, athletic director at Federal Way High School. “I don’t believe (school sports) are extracurricular. I think it is co-curricular. Our challenge in education is to educate youngsters. You learn in the classroom and I think you learn (in athletics). I have seen a ton of benefits of learning life-long lessons that occur in sports.”

Nationally, pay-to-play programs are clearly on the rise, although there are no hard statistics from the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), the governing body of high school sports in Washington, or the National Federation of State High School Associations.

“What is happening here is money is getting tight,” said Jim Meyerhoff, assistant executive director of the WIAA. “We have been getting a lot more requests for information (on pay to play.)”

The WIAA has taken no stance on the issue and doesn’t ask districts to provide information about whether or not they charge student-athletes to play in yearly membership questionaires.

Currently, the Federal Way district spends approximately $2 million a year on middle and high school sports, according to Davidson.

“A bulk of that –– about 85 to 90 percent –– is coaches’ salaries and official fees,” he said. “Things like that.”

Superintendent Tom Murphy’s budget recommendation is for students and parents to bear about 25 percent of the $2 million sports budget.

It is still up in the air whether the district will issue waivers to low-income students to participate in sports. According to the district, there has been talk about offering some type of scholarship-type program for student-athletes who can’t afford the price tag that comes along with playing a sport. Patrick likens it to the current program instituted in the Federal Way schools for free and reduced-price lunches.

“I think it will have a big effect on people, especially at our school,” Patrick said. “(Federal Way High) has the most students on free and reduced lunches in the district, and when you are talking about a kid who plays three sports, that is a significant amount of money.”

The pay-to-play proposal would not include the price of a school’s associated student body (ASB) card, which is required for all students who compete in sports. The card costs between $25 and $35, according to Patrick.

The ASB card sales’ receipts support activities and athletics at the school, including things like chess club, choir and band, said Patrick.

“We are working with some possible partners,” Davidson said. “We are looking at how we can assist kids. We want to make sure every kid who wants to play sports, can play sports. We are trying to think of every possibility we can and get all the details worked out.

“There are tons of ideas on the table.”

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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