Fees Keep Kids Out of School Sports
More teen football players are going to the emergency room for concussions.
Credit: M. Pappas.

Fees imposed by school districts to play on school sports teams have forced kids in lower-income families to the sidelines, according to a new poll. The analysis found nearly one fifth of lower-income parents report that their children are participating less in school sports.

"As pay-to-play becomes the norm, nearly 1 in 5 lower-income parents reported their kids decreased their sports participation — that's significant," study researcher Sarah Clark, of the University of Michigan, said in a statement.

School sports are important for many reasons: they help teens burn off stress, stay in shape, make friends and teaches them important life lessons. A study in 2008 found that though sports takes time away from studying, exercise improves academics.

"We know that participating in school sports offers many benefits to children and teens: higher school achievement, lower dropout rates, improved health, reduced obesity and the development of skills like teamwork and problem-solving," Clark said. "There's not an athletic director, school administrator or coach out there who doesn't want every kid to have a chance to participate. But there are no easy answers, especially because budgets are expected to get tighter and tighter."

The C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, conducted by the University of Michigan, asked a nationwide sample of parents of middle- and high-school-age children about participation and cost of school sports.

Overall, 61 percent of children playing middle or high school sports were charged a pay-to-play fee. The average fee was 93 dollars, according to the poll respondents, but 21 percent of children faced a pay-to-play fee of $150 or more.

However, pay-to-play fees are only one component of the school sports costs reported by parents. Including equipment, uniforms and additional team fees, the average cost for a child's sports participation was $381.

Researchers found that 12 percent of parents overall said that the cost of school sports caused a drop in participation for at least one of their children. However, that varied substantially based on income. Among lower-income families, those earning less than $60,000 per year, 19 percent said their children's participation decreased because of costs.

The poll found only 6 percent of participants received a waiver of pay-to-play fees. Perhaps, Clark said, schools need to look at their waiver policies and consider options like partial waivers, installment payments, or other means to provide flexibility for families.