Pay-To-Play Becomes Pay-To-Try-Out

If you're the parent of a high school athlete, you're probably accustomed to the variety of costs associated with high school sports, from equipment costs to participation fees. But at a school in Minnesota, students are now facing fees just to try out. These fees are just one more way schools are trying to balance their budgets in difficult times.

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Pay-To-Try-Out Fees

At Minnesota's Edina High School, boys and girls hoping to try out for the golf or hockey teams must first pay a new $50 fee. This fee isn't in lieu of or a part of the more common participation fee. If they make the team, they'll also pay a $140 participation fee for golf or a $220 fee for hockey. Students who get cut will get the participation fee returned, but the tryout fee is non-refundable.

The reason for the golf and hockey tryout fees, as explained by the school, is that those sports require access to unique facilities that cost the school extra. This is unlike basketball or football, for example, and other sports that use less costly or multi-use facilities. In order to even hold tryouts for hockey or golf, the school must pay for facilities, incurring costs that they can't get returned. While parents seem to understand the purpose behind the fees, it's difficult not to feel nickel-and-dimed as the fees pile on.

Running Out of Alternatives

Edina High School and other schools considering similar measures are not trying to make a quick buck off of families. They're simply responding to budgets that are increasingly stretched thin. The Edina School District came into this year with $2.3 million slashed from its budget. That led to fewer classes being offered and fewer teaching positions. In order to keep offering students the opportunity to play golf and hockey, they need the sports to generate more income.

Schools like Edina are looking wherever they can for new sources of income. In addition to participation fees, many schools are limiting transportation to away events and charging admission to athletic events that previously were free. At Minnetonka High School, one of Edina's neighbors, a number of varsity sports began charging admission last year, including baseball.

A National Issue

Minnesota isn't the only state where families are facing new and rising fees for sports. For example, at Lebanon High School in Dayton, Ohio, participation fees for varsity sports were $35 last year. This year, they increased to $250, an increase of more than 700%. A little further east, in Columbus, students were expecting to pay $500 to participate in sports in the Pickerington school district. While the school board reduced the fee to $375 shortly before the year began, that still is nearly double the fee from last year.

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