Financial struggles have forced the Plymouth-Canton community school district to raise the costs that students must pay to participate in high school sports.
High school students are now required to pay $180 to play on a varsity sport, an increase of $55 from the 2005-06 school year. To play on a second team, the fee drops to $100, and if the student plays for a third team, it is free of charge.
Plymouth-Canton Community Schools is currently working its way out of a $3 million to $3.5 million deficit. The district has cut $11 million from their budget over the past 5 years.
“I’ve had parents ask the question before of ‘It’s 180 dollars for my son to play basketball, and where does that go for basketball?’ and it really doesn’t, it just goes into the overall budget for athletics,” said Thomas Willette, the athletic director for Salem High School. “It allows us to continue to operate the way we have been, because the board of education is saying that we either have to cut athletics or we need to generate revenue.”
Plymouth varsity baseball coach Chuck Adams said that while he acknowledges the district’s budget difficulties, he wishes things could be different.
“It’s something that I wish we didn’t have to do,” Adams said. “I somewhat understand based off the economic troubles that the school system is in. It’s still pretty cheap compared to travel baseball or whatever else, but ultimately I like to think about that when I went to school everything was free, public education was for free.”
However, as cuts continue, Adams has questioned where the ‘pay-to-play’ money is actually going. Freshman baseball and softball were cut from all three school’s athletic programs this summer (though some teams continued to play through private funding), yet even more cuts are being made.
“[The money] is supposed to go right to the athletics account, but we’re not sure about that because it seems like they’ve already cut freshman teams this year, they cut freshman baseball and softball, and as the fees went up they’re not providing buses for the weekend either.”
Canton High School varsity hockey coach Dan Abraham said that the state government needs to improve funding for the public school systems, which would help the athletic departments. There were no hockey programs for the three high schools until the late 1990’s, and they were only formed on the understanding that they would have no financial support from the district, due to the expensive nature of the sport. Students on the hockey teams are exempt from the $180 fee, but have to pay around $1800 a year to play, according to Abraham.
“It doesn’t cost a red cent for the athletic department to run a high school hockey program,” Abraham said. “I would like to see the district at least pick up the coaches’ salaries, though that’s never going to happen. It would cut the fees for our players from $1,400 to maybe $800.”
Budget cuts are being made at the administrative level of the sports programs, as well. The district let go of Terry Sawchuck, the athletic director for Plymouth High School, at the beginning of the school year. Willette now shares the management of all P-CEP sports with Suzanne Heinzman, the athletic director for Canton High School. The two divide all sports programs per season, which means that one manages all three football programs, while the other manages all three baseball programs, and so forth.
Kyle Callahan, a Plymouth junior hockey player, said that even though the school district faces budget problems, they still need to find a way to help the athletic programs.
“I don’t like it because other schools get to play for free, and with hockey we have to pay a lot,” Callahan said. “Even though it’s a more expensive sport, we still have to pay and we shouldn’t have to.”
If the school district continues to have budget problems, costs could continue to rise for parents and students, according to Willette.
“It’s a tough thing, because if they keep telling us that due to financial reasons they need to make further cuts in athletics, we only have two options really,” Willette said. “One is to raise the pay to participate fees even more, which then could eliminate changes, but some parents could feel like they just can’t afford it anymore. Or the other option is to cut programs. Neither one of those is a good situation, but they are the only two options we have if next year they say we need to cut more money.”