In January 2016, 49 percent of high schools in Ohio enforced a “pay-to-play” policy in which it costs money for a student to play a sport, according to a survey by Scott Grant at the University of Findlay. With that percentage, and the price, growing by the year many children are being left without an outlet for exercise.
The concept of “pay-to-play” requires students in both public and private schools to fund their own participation in school-related extracurricular activities. Often students opt to play high school sports and hope the school keeps the price under $100, though that price differs between sports and regions of Ohio.
But if a student has aspirations of playing sports for more than just fun, that price skyrockets.
Figuring out which high schools charge for sports and how much each one charges is difficult in southeastern Ohio, as many schools neglect to report such information to the Ohio High School Athletic Association, Associate Professor and Kahandas Nandala Professor of Sports Administration David Ridpath says. Club sports and the Amateur Athletic Union [AAU] — an organization that showcases many of the best high school basketball players in the country — are more open about such things and those sports require payments that could reach $300 and more per sport, not including travel expenses and other costs.
“If you truly love a sport and can’t afford to play it, it’s like being deprived of an equal opportunity,” Michael Kelly, a freshman football player at Alexander High School, says. “Everyone should have an equal chance to excel and enjoy your high school opportunities in a sport.”
At what cost?
In Washington County’s Marietta College, which counts former MLB pitcher Matt DeSalvo as an alumnus, student athletes bring assorted high school experiences. Liz Nedved, a soccer player who grew up in Pickaway County’s Circleville, says although while her high school experience was relatively inexpensive, some aren’t as lucky.
“At my high school I had to pay $50, but I went to a pretty small high school,” she says. “My sister went to a high school in Columbus, and her pay to participate was anywhere from like $250 to $350.”
All around southeastern Ohio the finances can be back-breaking, especially if their children play more than one sport. Nedved chose to quit playing club soccer after her freshman year of high school mainly because of the financial and travel requirements for tournaments and competitions.
Brooke Borich, a Marietta College women’s basketball player from in Washington County’s Beverly, played AAU for six years, traveling as far as Missouri and North Carolina to compete at a higher level. Borich says she was fortunate that her parents and grandparents were so helpful in financing her travels.
“I didn’t really run into [a financial] issue,” she says. “We did a lot of fundraising for people who couldn’t afford it.”
However, countless other players are sidelined by the high prices or extensive travel requirements. For the families who struggle to keep food in pantries and clothes on their children’s backs, the burden is massive.
For families such as Borich’s, who have multiple student-athletes, other challenges emerge. In her case, Borich’s parents actually asked her younger sister to wait until the elder Borich graduated to start playing AAU because of the potential financial strain. The additional costs from playing club sports, such as meals, gas and hotel, often accompany high level athletics.
“Obviously cumulative it was pretty expensive for hotels and obviously meals and gas,” Borich says.
High school athletes such as Alexander Kelly, who plays in Athens County, have another three years of paying such costs and trying to recreate that feeling he felt on the first Friday he walked out with the Spartans. Kelly also dreads for the future of those who can’t afford to pay to play and what could await them in the future.