Parents accept new fee for sports

Little opposition to plan for $60 participation cost at Carroll high schools

Concern expressed for needy

July 28, 2002|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

If her oldest son makes the soccer team at Winters Mill High School, it will cost Beth Wolf $60. But she's not complaining.

With four children in youth sports leagues, the Westminster woman is used to writing checks.

"If it helps them get nicer uniforms or whatever they need to have a better season, that's fine," Wolf said.

Her views are typical of the response - at least so far - to the Carroll County school system's new policy requiring high school athletes to pay to play.

Some educators worry that the charges might shut out needy students, but officials say they've heard no significant outcry - perhaps because many parents are accustomed to paying for youth sports.

"For some who are coming from recreation programs and don't know any different, it won't be any change for them," said Bruce C. Cowan, the county's supervisor of physical education and athletics.

But he added: "For those parents in these programs who haven't had to pay before, they may be asking, `What's the deal here?'"

The Carroll school board voted unanimously last week to impose a $60 fee per athlete per sport.

Although other public school systems have considered the idea, the Carroll school system is one of three in the state and the only system in the Baltimore area to enact such a plan.

The Carroll board said the fees are needed to place the system's spending plan in line with the county commissioners' budget requirements. The fees are expected to bring in about $250,000, which is to help cover the cost of transportation, salaries, equipment and uniforms.

Sherri-Le W. Bream, principal of Winters Mill High in Westminster, said she has heard a range of opinions on the plan.

"Some parents were saying they expected this if the county wasn't going to adequately fund our programs," Bream said.

She added that the idea of parents paying money for school activities is not a new one.

During her 17 years at Westminster High School, Bream said, parents shelled out for field trip transportation, laboratory materials, fabric for clothes-making classes and, sometimes, choir activities.

Concerns for needy

"Other parents were more upset, not because they couldn't afford it, but because of the principle of it," she said. "They were angry for other [needy] parents and children."

Although the school board has addressed this issue by agreeing to waive the fee for those under financial hardship or on reduced-lunch plans, Bream is concerned that some students will get left behind.

"Not everyone chooses to participate in the reduced-lunch program because of the stigma," she said. "We're afraid some students might not want to come out for sports because of this."

The athletic boosters at Winters Mill will try to provide financial assistance to any student who would be unable to play because of the fee, the principal said.

Coaches on `front lines'

Rob Pennington, cross country and track coach at South Carroll High School, said coaches will have to field any complaints that arise.

"We're in the middle of a bad situation," Pennington said. "We'll probably be the ones who end up asking for and taking the money. We're going to take the heat for it. We're on the front lines with the parents."

He felt that he might escape some of their ire because everyone on his teams runs in competitions. He said he wonders how some participants in other sports will react to paying a fee and spending most of their time on the bench.

"It's going to come down hard on them," Pennington said.

Officials at other Carroll County high schools said they haven't heard complaints but won't be surprised if they do.

"It's something new for us, and when that happens people raise their eyebrows," said Allan R. Abbott, an assistant principal at Francis Scott Key High. "But it's a situation where budgets are tight. We've got to do something to offset costs."

"It's still sinking in," said Drew Cockley, a Liberty High School assistant principal. "A lot of reactions will occur once it's put in place and you have to open up the checkbook. That's when it's going to hit home."

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