Pay-to-play's impact still up in the air


Sports editor

The numbers are in and, on the surface, it doesn’t look like the new pay-to-play fees for sports participation at the middle and high school levels have affected things too much.

According to those numbers, released last week, students playing fall sports across the Federal Way school district are almost exactly the same as a year ago. In total, 1,399 kids in grades seven through 12 participated this school year, compared to 1,413 in 2002 — before pay-to-play was enacted.

“Those numbers kind of surprised me, to be honest,” said Mark Davidson, assistant superintendent of the Federal Way schools.

But officials caution that the fall sports season is not the time to judge whether the new $70 per sport fee at the high schools and $40 at the middle school level is keeping student/athletes away. The fall sports roster includes sports like football, soccer, swimming, tennis, golf and cross country, which draw a dedicated group of athletes. Also a bulk of the sports were no-cut — meaning all the kids who turned out, made the team.

“You’ll see a big drop in the spring,” said Thomas Jefferson Athletic Director Mike Grady.

Spring is usually a time of the year that many kids turn out for sports like track and tennis because of good weather and a chance to hang out with their friends after school.

“There are a ton of kids that do track and at that age kids just want to try something for something to do and now it is going to cost them a lot of money to do that,” Grady said.

The Federal Way School Board voted last summer to start charging student/athletes fees 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 is hoping to recoup $300,000 this school year from the pay-to-play fees. This fall, $82,870 was collected. Those fees are set to rise to $105 a sport at high schools and $70 a sport at middle schools next year, pending the board’s approval.

Federal Way High School seemed to be the hardest hit during the fall. Participation was down to just 175 kids in grades 10 through 12 this year, compared to 287 a year ago.

“Our school’s socio-economic numbers make it a little tougher than the other schools,” said Federal Way High School Athletic Director Bob France. “We have 45 percent of our students who are qualified for free or reduced lunches and they start looking for other things to spend their money on. Do the parents want to have their kids play sports or put food on the table?

“I’ve had people come through my office and say that they just can’t do it. That is a tough one. This has hit Federal Way High School really hard.”

The current $70 per-sport fee at the high school level is only the tip of the iceberg, as far as the money that has to be spent to participate. Student/athletes are also required to pay $30 for an Associated Student Body (ASB) card, $30-40 for a doctor’s physical examination — also required — and whatever the amount needed to buy shoes, clothes, etc.

“I think our girls basketball team spent $200 before they ever stepped on the court,” Grady said.

“I feel bad. Sports keeps kids out of trouble and off the streets. Now parents are having to look in their wallets. Their first question now is ‘how much does it cost?’”

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565,

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