The Black River school board Thursday unanimously approved steep cuts in “pay-to-play” fees for the upcoming school year.
The plan, submitted by a special athletic council committee, will cut the $250 across-the-board fee for athletics and extra-curricular activities by half or more, depending on the activity.
“It’s a great relieving feeling,” said Athletic Director Josh Calame. “I can speak for all of our coaching staffs and say that they’re looking forward to upcoming seasons, knowing that pay-to-play isn’t going to be the mess that it has been.”
Calame said Black River’s athletic programs have suffered significant losses in participation since the pay-to-play policy was implemented about five years ago when the fee started at $500 per sport.
In subsequent years it was later reduced to $375 and then to $250, but Calame said the cost was still prohibitive.
This year’s girls basketball squad, for example, did not field a junior varsity team for lack of players. The entire team had only nine members.
Calame said better days are ahead, though it will take some time for Black River sports to regain momentum.
“You’ll definitely see a change in our numbers across the board,” he said. “But you won’t see a drastic effect as far as performance immediately. We lost a lot of kids and it’ll take some time to undo the damage.”
The new fee plan will charge $100 each for high school football, golf, cross country, soccer, cheerleading, marching band, majorette and flagline, boys and girls basketball wrestling, baseball, softball and track and field. Bowling will pay only a $50 transportation fee.
Seventh- and eighth-grade students will pay $75 each for football, basketball, volleyball, wrestling, track, cross country, band, majorette and flagline. Cheerleaders will pay only $25.
Girls basketball coach Ken Diedrick said the plan places a $300 cap on high school activities and $225 on middle school participation. No student would pay more than the cap, no matter how many activities they participated in.
Students who pay their fee for one sport also will get a free pass to other sports during the same season. For example, they only have to pay the participation fee once to participate in multiple sports for fall but will have to pay again to participate in winter or spring sports unless they’ve met the cap.
Payment does not guarantee playing time. Fees will be due by the first scheduled formal event of the season, such as the first regular season football game.
Students who leave the team before the first event are eligible for a $50 refund for junior high and a $75 refund for high school, as long as they are not removed for disciplinary reasons.
The change comes less than a year after the district passed an 8.7-mill five-year levy.
Superintendent Janice Wyckoff said Wednesday that she doesn’t believe the levy had anything to do with the proposal and declined to speculate on how the fee change will affect the district.
But Diedrick and other coaches say the change will make a world of difference.
“We’re hoping to get more kids in the stands and change the culture,” he said. “We want to get the kids and parents excited about the programs again, and stop the decline.”
Football coach Al Young said his program didn’t suffer as much as some others, but the fees did hurt.
The team held fundraisers to help players meet their fees.
“It still hurt us. We did suffer a little bit,” he said. “Now hopefully we can start using our fundraisers for something other than just helping them with their pay-to-play.”
Young also said students will be able to better afford participation in multiple sports and grow as athletes, a benefit to all programs.
“Playing multiple sports is going to make your best athletes, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “I think overall, I speak for all the coaches in all the sports from middle school on up, when you get well-rounded athletes, it makes us all better.”
Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.