Looking at the fine print of “free” in high school sports

Given the increasing cost of participating in a sport, college is no longer the only cost parents worry about affording. Although high school sports teams provide their athletes with both a daily workout and a competitive environment, additional expenses compile easily, resulting in a financial impact on both the athlete and their family.

The San Mateo Union High School District athletic manual states that “no student-athlete or family of a student-athlete will be required or pressured to pay a ‘participation fee’ by the district, schools or affiliated athletic booster clubs.”

This rule aims to ensure that, financially, all students have the possibility to participate in a school sport, along with minimizing the financial impact on the student-athlete’s family.

However, this regulation is unable to fully eliminate the total financial burdens on players and their families. Despite this seemingly-free after school activity, many unspoken costs come with participating in a sport, including paying for gear, driving to events, and participating in camps, clinics and private lessons outside of practice and games.

“In soccer we don’t have to pay [any fees] unless we want to buy a team shirt, but you have to get your own equipment like shoes and practice clothes and the equipment like shinguards and cleats and socks,” says junior soccer player Taylin Nguyen.

Varsity golf coach and physical education teacher Guy Oling notes the cost of equipment: “Players have to supply their own golf clubs and bag [for the clubs], which are pretty expensive.”

Many players whose families are unable to afford the costs of equipment or outside practices may not be as successful as fellow teammates. This is a result of not receiving an equivalent level of coaching or practice that comes with private lessons and clinics, or not having higher quality equipment.

Nguyen, also a cross-country runner, explains how the financial status of athletes’ families can directly correlate to their performance: “For cross-country, a lot of people, who are really fast, wear flats, which help you run faster in meets, [but] some kids [who] are really fast can’t afford those, so they’re kind of [cheated] of their times.”

Along with buying equipment and gear, many players purchase the opportunities to participate in outside activities, such as clinics, camps, private lessons or playing for a club team.

“To be good, you usually have to pay for clinics, which are group lessons, or private lessons, which are lessons with the coach,” says senior tennis player Sagrika Jawadi. “[My coach] doesn’t really expect that, but if you’re good it’s kind of what you do as a player … I think that people who can’t afford those things wouldn’t be able to be as successful.”

Although many coaches, including Jawadi’s, do not expect players to enroll in outside lessons, many players chose to participate and receive the extra practice. This causes other players to feel obliged to participate in private or group lessons in order to compete with the players who attend outside practices. Players participating in activities outside of practice and games has become an unofficial standard in many sports, thus increasing the financial burden of playing sports on an athlete’s family and ultimately creating an uneven playing field.

“[Parents] definitely have to have an income that can support [the costs] and it could be very hard for some families,” says Aragon parent Toufan Parman. “For example, if you are a single mom or a single dad with one income and if your income is within a specific range, you might not be able to afford some of the [lessons or equipment].”

Despite myriad added costs, the San Mateo Union High School District and Aragon’s athletic department do make an effort to offset these costs for families. All Aragon sports teams are provided with free jerseys, along with a practice location and balls specific to their sport. Additionally, Aragon’s athletic booster clubs are the main source of funding for all sports, and funds are raised for the athletic program through different fundraisers, such as selling t-shirts and charging an entry fee for certain sports games.

Players wishing to subside additional expenses can choose to buy gently used gear, practice with a parent or friend, thus forgoing private lessons with a coach, or even organize a team fundraiser such as a bake sale. However, if athletes wish to play at a competitive level, they will not be able to eliminate all expenses.

In spite of the many health benefits and skills that high school sports provide, from time management to discipline, parents and players must take caution — these advantages do not come cheap.

Posted by Claire Mason

Claire is thrilled to kick off her sophomore year by joining the Outlook as a sports writer. When she’s not drowning in work she tends to sign herself up for, she can be spotted playing volleyball, searching for new books to read, or trying to catch up on sleep. Claire loves driving her friends crazy with her Harry Potter obsession and cringe-worthy puns.

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