Pay-to-Play Sports are Preventing Lower-Income Kids from Participating in Athletic Programs

Photo by stevendepolo, used with Creative Commons License.

Due to budget cuts and tight funding, many school districts are cutting sports programs for middle and high school students from their budgets. As a result, they are implementing pay-to-play initiatives that charge participation fees to cover the cost of school sports. These fees are forcing many lower-income children to stop participating in school sports.

The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Children’s Health Poll recently asked a national sample of parents of middle and high school students about their children’s participation in school sports. Overall, 43% of parents reported that their child participated in sports, and 61% of those parents reported paying a pay to play fee. The poll report also notes that the participation fee is often only one of many fees that parents have to pay. This fee may not include the cost of uniforms or equipment. The average fee was $93, but 21% of parents reported having to pay over $150. Only 6% of parents reported receiving a waiver for the fee.

Substantial differences in sports participation are seen based on household income. Among lower-income families making less than $60,000 a year, only one-third reported having a teen who played sports. More than half of families with household incomes greater than $60,000 reported having a teen who played sports. Also, 1 in 5 lower-income households reported a decrease in their child’s participation in sports due to cost.

Participation in school sports is beneficial for children’s health. Children who participate in sports have been shown to have higher school achievement, lower dropout rates, reduced obesity rates, enhanced self-confidence, and better problem solving skills. The authors of the report suggest that school administrators should be cautious when cutting athletic programs from school budgets and that policies regarding waiver programs need to be reevaluated.

Schubert Center Faculty Associate, Elaine Borawski, also does research on students and physical activity. She has investigated the effectiveness of the We Run this City Youth Marathon Program, which is a school-based running program where students accumulate 25 miles of conditioning work, and complete the program by running the last 1.2 miles of the Cleveland Marathon.

Read more about the results of the NCHP poll here or watch a video summary.

At the National Children’s Health Poll’s new website, you can browse their reports, review past polls, and suggest future poll topics.

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