Pay-to-play sports fees benching many lower-income kids

In tough economic times, schools have faced deep funding cuts for middle and high school sports. To help fund these programs, many schools now charge “pay-to-play” fees for athletic participation.

Pay-to-play fees are sometimes charged per school year or sometimes charged for each sport a student plays. In a recent NPCH Report, we found that these fees plus other expenses such as equipment, transportation, and team fees are adding up to lower participation for kids who can’t afford to play.

We asked parents of children age 12-17 about their child’s participation in school sports and about how much it cost for them to play sports in the 2011-2012 school year.

There was a large difference in school sports participation between lower-income families and higher-income families. Additionally, nearly 1 in 5 parents in lower-income households reported that the cost of sports caused a decrease in their child’s participation.

School sports offer many benefits: higher school achievement, lower dropout rates, improved health, and the development of teamwork, problem-solving skills, and enhanced self-confidence. Findings from this Poll are a cautionary tale for those who administer middle and high school sports programs. Pay-to-play programs should be implemented carefully, to ensure that all teens have an equitable chance to benefit from participating in school sports.

Video: NPCH Associate Director Sarah Clark talks about the cost of participating in school sports