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Posted on Mon, May 14, 2012 : 2:23 p.m.

Pay-to-play fees sideline kids in 19 percent of low-income families

By Danielle Arndt

Pay-to-play fees for athletics are preventing lower-income children from participating in middle and high school sports, a new study from the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital shows.

Nearly 1 in 5 low-income parents reported that cost forced their child to cut back on sports, said U-M’s National Poll on Children’s Health.

The new study asked parents of teenagers, both in middle and high school, nationwide about participation and the price tag on playing a sport at their schools.

It found 61 percent of children were charged a pay-to-play fee. The average fee, according to the poll, was $93, while 21 percent of respondents paid $150 or more.

Combined with equipment, uniforms and additional team fees, the study showed the average total cost for a child’s participation in sports is $381.

Nineteen percent of families in the study that earned less than $60,000 per year reported the cost of sports led to at least one of their children not participating.

Among households earning more than $60,000 per year, just five percent of parents said cost had a negative impact on their child’s participation, the study showed.

The study talked about how school districts across the country are cutting their athletic budgets in an effort to keep money in the classrooms.

Officials with Dexter Community Schools in Washtenaw County have discussed moving to an entirely self-funded sports system within five years, according to a report last month by

According to the article, the district’s athletic budget is set at $585,000 for this year. The article said school leaders want to raise the Dexter’s current pay-to-play fees, which are: $100 per sport, per high schooler and $60 per sport, per middle schooler.

At Ann Arbor Public Schools, the fee to participate in any after-school sport is $50 per middle schooler, per year. At high schools, the fee is $150 for the first sport and an additional $75 for each sport after that.

There also in an insurance fee of $30 per year for high school athletes, said district spokeswoman Liz Margolis.

The fee at Whitmore Lake Public Schools is $75 for middle schoolers and $125 for high schoolers per year. Superintendent Kimberly Hart said these figures include a $25 transportation fee.

Saline Area Schools charges $200 per student at the middle school and $250 at the high school, no matter how many sports the students participate in.

Middle-school students at Manchester Community Schools pay $90 for the first season, $70 for the second season and $60 for the third or fourth. At the high school, the fees are $100 for the first season, $80 for the second and $70 for the third or fourth.

Chelsea School District charges $25 for unlimited sports at the middle school this year and $100 for unlimited sports at the high school. Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch only pay $10 to participate.

Most of these districts also have a per-family cost cap of $300 to $500. Pay-to-play fees for Lincoln Consolidated Schools were not available.

Milan, Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts do not charge pay-to-play fees. Ypsilanti officials said they would not consider pay-to-play because the majority of their athletes would qualify for a wavier or scholarship.

Most of Washtenaw County's districts do offer some type of scholarship or the ability to pay in installments to low-income families. However, the U-M study found just 6 percent of the national poll participants had their children’s participation fees waved.

“We know participating in school sports offers many benefits to children and teens: higher school achievement, lower dropout rates, improved health, reduced obesity and the development of skills like teamwork and problem-solving,” said Sarah Clark, associate director of U-M’s child health research unit, in a press release.

“There is not an athletic director, school administrator or coach out there who doesn’t want every kid to have a chance to participate. But there are no easy answers, especially because budgets are expected to get tighter and tighter.”

Clark hopes this poll data will spur a conversation among school officials about how to make sure children in lower-income families are not left out, she said.

Read the full C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital report here or watch the video below, further summarizing the study.

Staff reporter Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Wed, May 16, 2012 : 4:01 p.m.

So many of these comments are missing the mark in my opinion. Full disclosure: I am an athletic administrator in the metro Detroit area and a few years ago our school district abolished pay-to-play and refunded money already collected. The results were tremendous! By focusing on our vision and not just what the money limited us to, we attracted students and alternative funding to focus on all educational programs. Properly conducted interscholastic athletic programs as well as fine arts are a part of the educational process. School sports are not club sports, they're not major college sports and they are certainly not professional sports - they are educational in nature and should be viewed as such. Would we charge a student to participate in math or social studies? Of course not! Why charge families for educational interscholastic athletics?

John Hritz

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 5:51 p.m.

Based on the comments, the article isn't clear on whether the fee is for team sports or for physical education. PE should not have any costs other than sweats and sneakers. Not everyone at a school can participate in team sports, so a _nominal_ fee should be charged coupled with fundraising by the boosters. The amount of variability in the fees and fee structures is surprising.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 2:12 p.m.

Bottom line here is that you parents need to get out and work to afford your children to play sports, if you care enough for them you can find a way to pay for it. You have no right asking others to pay for your kids.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 2:41 p.m.

I could not agree more. Maybe the parents might need to get involved more to let their children play altogether. Although, I have seen some parents who should get involved more then others.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 2:33 p.m.

Even though I've paid for all the kids that went before mine....


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 11:12 a.m.

According to the Census Bureau the median household income is $51,914. So the article indicates that "Low Income" is $60,000. I would love to know who came up with the definition for the study and the article. I would also love to know what are defined as "school sports", purely sports offered by the school system or do they include things like Karate at a Dojo after school? Given the low income definition, one has to wonder. I have never in my life seen a 51% participation rate in school sports by the student body. In most schools it struggles to rise above 25 percent. In almost every district in the county, true low income families do have a waver available for sports teams. A bit more work on this by AnnArbor.Com seems in order. How about the rest of the facts behind the study? This is another red meat, get them to comment without the facts article.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 5:27 p.m.

The rich are all of those who make over $200,000 for now. Once they need more money it will be $100,000 until even the poor at $60,000 will have to pay more in taxes..............

average joe

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 9:57 a.m.

Okay, I'll ask- Why did C.S. Mott conduct a study about affordability of after school athletics?


Wed, May 16, 2012 : 1:37 a.m.

I think they do an annual omnibus survey and this time stuck in a few questions about pay to play because it's an issue in education funding now. Most of it is probably more mundane how-many-kids-do-you-have, do-you-vaccinate-them, do-you-put-them-in-car-seats kind of stuff.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 4:21 a.m.

Why does the headline say low-income when the statistics do not refer to low income families? Many of these families are making around $60,000. That is not low income. Low income families frequently receive scholarships for sports activities. It is the working families that don't receive assistance and often cannot afford atheletics. Why does all the attention constantly go to the bottom tier who frequently receive help and not to struggling working families who often have to bypass activities for their children due to lack of funds? As for the comments about waiting to be able to afford athletics? Good grief! Health for the wealthy. We have epidemic levels of children being obese and out of shape and we are talking about athletics being a frill? Come on. This is no frill. This is the health of the children of our country. As a kid, I had gym every single day plus after school atheletics, open to all and no based on tryouts. We need to return to this type of model.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 10:16 p.m.

@unusual suspect - Uh, 30 kids would be 3 baseball teams, dear. We played each other and we had way more than 30 kids.

Unusual Suspect

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 5:04 a.m.

"open to all and no based on tryouts" So, a baseball team with 30 kids would work for you? Every kid gets to play, what, one inning?


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 4:14 a.m.

Summary: Poor kids are disadvantaged. It's pretty sad really. Donations can help, if only more were willing to invest in our community's impoverished children. It's pretty ridiculous that you need to pay to participate in school sports, but everything seems to come with a fee these days.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 10:17 p.m.

My comment got deleted because I mentioned the boosters and AAPS. I hate to say it, I am right. AAPS does have the boosters and if you cannot pay? They do. Hate to say it, but we parents need to pay for it. Not the schools.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 5:25 p.m.

Life's not fair, people are mean, disaapointments will happen...............our kids are taught from birth to expect all of their needs to be taken care of by others. That's the beginning of the end of all great nations.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 2:30 p.m.

I feel so sorry for them as I am sure you do, where can we send money?

The Black Stallion3

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 12:35 a.m.

He will be out after November......thank God !!


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 2:42 p.m.

I agree also and can hardly wait for his departure.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 2:40 p.m.

Wow, did you take a hit for that one. But I must admit one thing. I could not agree more.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 12:31 a.m.

Good thing Mr. Negative is not in charge of Anything.

Linda Peck

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 12:04 a.m.

Not only do I not support pay to play sports, I don't support school sports that encourage violence towards other people. Sports in school should be available for all students if they wish to participate, at all levels of ability, and for free. Sports activities should not include violence towards other children, not implied or actual. Sports activities should not endanger children. If we cannot afford to have this type of sports program, then we should hang up sports in schools.

The Black Stallion3

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 1:49 a.m.

I love to see a good clean hit in football or hockey.

Unusual Suspect

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 1:28 a.m.

Two people voluntarily smashing together is not "violence." It is athletic, and there may be pain involved, but the fact the people involved are willing to participate in the activity means it isn't "violence." A physicist may describe the event as a "violent collision," but it's not "violence." Violence is when you walk up to somebody on the street and tackle him against his will. Without athletic sports, some of which involve collisions, we will end up with a culture full of metrosexual wimps.

Unusual Suspect

Mon, May 14, 2012 : 9:49 p.m.

Rec & Ed has sports, too, and scholarships.


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 9:20 p.m.

Last year a young man from Dexter showed up at my house selling discount cards for local business to fund the football team. He was wearing his jersey. I bought one even though I don't go to their games and I never used the card. At Manchester High, another nice young man offered me coupons to Subway as a fund raising effort for the track team. I didn't have the cash on me and it was the last day of the sale. I sent the track team the amount anyway as a donation. Both of these guys are strangers. What I liked was that they both were a polite young men and that their team was showing some effort to get out and raise some funds. I do not think it would be all that difficult for all teams to do something like this to help defray costs. Also the schools have some fantastic facilities with which they could sponsor events over the summer, like father/son, mother/daughter tournaments, 3 on 3 basketball tournaments, etc etc. I pass by schools and see deserted courts and fields. Maybe use your resources to raise some funds and put together some fun local activities.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 5:23 p.m.

This is the way it should be done if you can't afford it. Haerd to raise money unless you are being paid to play Xbox proffesionally


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 1:11 a.m.

As the boys coach of the Manchester Track team we appreciate your donation Mick. If you also where the person that wrote that nice letter to the student that approached you that was a very nice gesture. He mother was very proud of him that someone would go out of their way to praise him in such a positive way.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 12:08 a.m.

A LOT of kids in public schools already do this. They hold car washes, bake sales, lawn mowing. Let's support these kids. Donate.

The Black Stallion3

Mon, May 14, 2012 : 9:29 p.m.

I agree with this, if the sport programs are something these kids want then they can get out and contribute to its success. This is how children learn to value what they get, let's face it, when it is given to you free you don't respect it as much as if you had to earn it.


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 8:53 p.m.

I strongly support all kids being engaged in after-school activities and physically active, but I would like to see varsity sports banned at the high school and college level throughout the state. For what the local school districts spend on their athletic programs, we could easily afford to have every kid in gym for half an hour every day. A well-designed and universal program of physical education for our K-12 students would produce all the same benefits the above writers have claimed for health and learning without the bullying, elitism and viciousness that are drawbacks of many of the current varsity sports programs. Let those who wish to and are able to compete at an elite level join the available club teams and leave our education taxes out of the equation.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 5:21 p.m.

I would like to see band, chess club, robotics, music, art, and AP classes banned. It makes those who aren't as smart feel bad and hurt their self esteem and we all know how bad that is for our kids..........

The Black Stallion3

Mon, May 14, 2012 : 8:24 p.m.

Are these kids wanting the tax payers to fund them the same ones getting free lunches and dropped off to school in a new Lincoln or Cadillac? Something wrong with this picture.


Wed, May 16, 2012 : 12:07 p.m.

its wierd to sit in your car watching other kids thinking about what they should and shouldnt get. who are you to say? frankly its not my business nor should it be yours.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 1:59 p.m.

Better that you picture yourself not realizing what is going on around you.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 11:20 a.m.

So should I picture you sitting in your car, talking with your kids about other kids (getting out of the Cadillacs) who get free lunch?!

The Black Stallion3

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 2 a.m.

The kids will be glad to share any info you want, they know more than the parents and most teachers about what is going on and who is getting what. All you have to do is listen.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 1:57 a.m.

Okay, I'll bite, BS3. How do you know from your car (since your kids don't walk) that someone getting into or out of another car gets free lunch?

Unusual Suspect

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 1:30 a.m.

"It's also funny that BS3 knows which kids get free lunches, since that information is so confidential not even their teachers know." Every kid knows. They talk about it all the time.

The Black Stallion3

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 12:26 a.m.

Sorry, they don't ride the bus.

The Black Stallion3

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 12:24 a.m.

It is very easy to find out who is getting free lunches.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 12:16 a.m.

It's also funny that BS3 knows which kids get free lunches, since that information is so confidential not even their teachers know.

Unusual Suspect

Mon, May 14, 2012 : 9:48 p.m.

... while they text on their iPhone.

The Black Stallion3

Mon, May 14, 2012 : 9:26 p.m.

I don't name names.............just sit outside the schools and watch, you will see the same thing I do. I am saying what I see.


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 9:23 p.m.

Can you name one child who gets free lunch and is dropped off by a Caddy or Lincoln? I doubt it.


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 8:09 p.m.

Organized activities and sports, keep kids engaged, and occupied, as well as teaching important values. These values include learning to participate and support members of the team, raising self-esteem, good role models (as long as the coaches are properly vetted). Working toward a common goal with others is extremely important. New friendships are made, and sports are well-known for keeping kids out of trouble.

The Black Stallion3

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 12:58 a.m.

I agree, which is why every parent should be willing to do what ever they need to for providing money to pay for their children to play sports. These parents should feel good about helping their children.

The Black Stallion3

Mon, May 14, 2012 : 7:58 p.m.

If you want something bad enough then work for it............stop asking for everything free.


Wed, May 16, 2012 : 12:03 p.m.

sorry guys but the point is it used to be free and still could be. however due to incomptence on the part of administrators and elected officials now its not. you want responsibility then make your elected officials have some. vote them out come election time, go to meetings and complain. your pretty loud on here but when push comes to shove are you really willing to work for it? will you practice what you preach?


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 5:15 p.m.

So mean spirited is in work is out. I'm a bad parent because I make my kids pay for things they want. They'll be glad when this country adopts socialism and supplies them with food, housing, health care, college, transportation, etc. It doesn't make sense economically to work when all is give to you...........

Rosie Lemons

Mon, May 14, 2012 : 7:50 p.m.

I think there should be some sort of voucher or grant/scholarship for those with limited means. But let's face it. It if comes between having less than 30+ kids in a classroom or ANYONE playing sports, I am all about funding the education first and foremost. I realize that there are those that will go on to make their living at playing professional sports and that getting rid of educational sports programs may limit them, but the lack of funding in our school systems is alarming and the education of all is at stake. Something has to give and I sure don't think it should be at the cost of our students education.


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 7:50 p.m.

I can tell you from personal experience in the Saline School District, if the child is low income and gets free lunch, the athletic fees are waved. There isn't even any paperwork involved. Since this is Washtenaw County, I am sure it is that easy at any school in the area. I know you can also get a significant discount if you have a reduced lunch. The qualifications are the same, low income.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 2:35 p.m.

I know AAPS when they did pay for play they took into consideration the low income children. They mentioned the boosters and fundraisers can help off set these costs so that children who want to play are not discriminated against. Although I was concerned by this because not all boosters can afford a lot of children who are low income and then drop out because they do not like it. Another reason why most do not become involved in sports.

The Black Stallion3

Mon, May 14, 2012 : 9:09 p.m.

Then cancel sports and concentrate on education. Stop giving out passing grades to kids who can't spell their own names.


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 8:48 p.m.

I think the point here is that, in school districts like Ypsilanti, there are so many kids who would need waivers that there would be no benefit from having pay-to-play--the income from pay-to-play would be negligible.


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 8:05 p.m.

This is why thumbs down was a bad idea Concerned Citizen made an observation, offered no opinion, and gets a thumbs down. Yes, kids who qualify for reduced or free lunches also qualify for reduced participation fees.


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 7:41 p.m.

I can understand nominal fees for sports but when it gets into the hundreds of dollars it can be hard financially on a family. Playing a sport in middle or high school should be available to more students. Giving them the chance to learn something new, get regular exercise and work with a team should not be something that excludes certain kids just because they can't afford it! I have a high school student that just participated in Synchronized Swimming and Water Polo in AAPS. In team fees alone those 2 sports cost at least $500. It wasn't easy on me financially but I wanted my daughter to have the opportunity to particiate that she might not have later on.


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 9:28 p.m.

Did you also have other costs, like providing food, etc.. at the meets?


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 9:21 p.m.

How about Uncles, Aunts, Grandparents, Mom and Dad's friends...


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 7:27 p.m.

Can we say, duh?


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 7:23 p.m.

Good lesson. Thats how real life works. I know when my kid wants something I wont pay he finds a way, like the $350 dollar drum set that took him a whole summer to get, when he was only 8.


Wed, May 16, 2012 : 11:55 a.m.

actually its not a good lesson. probably a majority of commenters on here never had to pay to play sports in school because it was free. incompetant leadership put us in this postion. had our elected officials gotten their priorties together and learned to mange a budget this wouldnt be a problem. so the lesson learned here should be that adults are too stupid to manage anything so now you cant play sports.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 5:04 p.m.

Lots of negative votes on your post. This is the city of everything is free if you just collect a little more in taxes................

The Black Stallion3

Mon, May 14, 2012 : 7:20 p.m.

Life is not all peaches and creme....If you can't afford it then you have to wait until you can.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 2:06 a.m.

Or you can just have pay to play for band and music kids. that seems equitable doesn't it. why only go after athletics.

Dog Guy

Mon, May 14, 2012 : 11:07 p.m.

BS3: Nor is life all root beer and skittles (not capitalized).