Rising cost of youth sports Higher fees for park use could drive poor kids to the sidelines.

September 05, 1996

IN RECENT YEARS, local officials from Buffalo to Tampa have turned more and more to user fees as a palatable alternative to higher property taxes. Many times, this is not just a less objectionable alternative but a good one. With these fees, a local government can send bills to those who directly benefit from using "nonessential" services, which are unlike common concerns such as police and fire protection or water and sewerage.

But there are other services considered nonessential that impact even residents who don't use them, and whose costs should be shared by the community. Foremost among these, perhaps, are youth recreation programs. Unfortunately, the cost is rising for young people who play sports in Howard County programs.

The problem is particularly worrisome in Savage, where sports organizers fear that user fees for county parks will drive up the costs for young players and drive some low-income children to the sidelines. Youth leagues are a pleasant and popular pastime, with up to 18,000 children participating in such activities as baseball, soccer, basketball and lacrosse.

Howard County's decision to charge $12 for each game or practice at county parks will discourage participation. Savage youth sports organizers fear that the cost for each child in soccer, baseball and lacrosse could rise $25 by spring. County officials estimate that the increase will be lower, predicting the per-player cost to be $2 to $4 per season, but they acknowledge the amount could be higher. In either case, it will strain some pocketbooks.

Participants in the Savage Boys and Girls Club already pay as much as $130 for some traveling soccer teams. These expenses go toward referees, uniforms and equipment.

Some families will simply grumble about the increase before writing checks for the higher fee. But despite the county's wealth, there are low-income families -- especially those with more than one child -- who may be forced to decide whether it is too expensive for their sons and daughters to continue participating in these worthwhile programs.

Garry Cardinal, the Savage Boys and Girls club's soccer commissioner, warns that kids who cannot afford to play will be "out on the street again." Indeed, the community loses when only those able to foot the bill can play.

Pub Date: 9/05/96

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