Pay-to-play: Participation is suffering

Does anybody care?

The numbers seem to say yes, but the public outcry seems to say otherwise. Federal Way school district officials are admitting that the new pay-to-play measure implemented at the high school and middle school level has had a pretty significant impact on the number of athletes turning out for sports in the fall season, but officials aren’t really sure how Federal Way feels about pay-to-play.

“Quite frankly, we have received very little feedback from the community,” Assistant Superintendent Mark Davidson said. “I would say 99 percent of the feedback has been internal. Occasionally, you will hear some concerns through the grapevine, but people haven’t called me directly. And that has been surprising.”

The Federal Way school district started charging student-athletes to play sports at the middle and high school levels this fall. The district hopes to raise $300,000 this year to help offset a $6.4 million budget shortfall because of the expected loss of state funding, declining enrollment and increased fixed costs.

The district isn’t planning any changes to the pay-to-play initiative in the near future. The $70-a-sport fee at the high-school level and the $40 per in middle schools will remain as is during the winter and spring seasons. Those numbers are set to jump to $105/season at high schools and $70/season at middle schools next year as part of the 2004-05 budget process.

The district won’t be providing any hard numbers on sports participation until the fall sports season concludes in November, according to Davidson. That is when the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) requires member schools to submit grade by grade participation.

Federal Way High School might be the hardest hit by the new fees. According to unscientific numbers, the school is down approximately 100 athletes from the same period — fall — as last year. Jefferson is down about 80 to 100 participants, according to athletic director Mike Grady. Those two schools have the highest populations of free and reduced lunches — a good gauge of the income level of the students enrolled. Decatur draws from a more affluent part of town and therefore paying for sports doesn’t seem to be affecting participation.

“Overall, our numbers are about equal to last year,” said Decatur Athletic Director Greg Flynn.

“I can tell you unequivocally that we are down at the high school level,” Davidson said. “We clearly have less students that are turning out.”

Participation is also lower at the middle schools around Federal Way, according to building athletic directors.

“Our numbers are down,” said Dennis Pichette, the athletic director at Totem Middle School. “And next year I know it is going to be worse. I think we are going to lose even more next year (when prices go up).”

One of the big problems has been parents with a student at both the middle school and high school level having to choose which one will get to play sports because of the high pricetag.

“It just makes things hard,” Kilo Athletic Director Jerry Krueger said. “You can’t really be in sports just for the fun of it. Maybe there should be something like a cap a family has to pay — something like free and reduced lunch.”

But district officials have been pretty adament about not offering any financial aid to needy students. They say that wouldn’t accomplish the goal of earning the money to help offset the budget shortage.

So, for now, things will remain the same with pay-to-play.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565,

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