High School Football

School athletic fees are new normal on South Shore

September 07, 2012 06:25PM
By Christian Schiavone
The Patriot Ledger

It wasn’t that long ago that the opportunity to join the high school football or baseball team seemed as much an entitlement of a public education as English and math classes.

But in the coming school year, families in all but one South Shore community will have to shell out hundreds of dollars or more before their children can don a helmet or pick up a bat.

Today, somewhere upward of 70 percent of Massachusetts school districts charge athletic fees compared to 15 years ago when only about 10 percent to 15 percent did so, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees estimates. On the South Shore, the list of communities that charge fees includes every community except Randolph.

With communities turning increasingly to parents’ wallets to cover the costs for athletic programs when budgets get tight, parents say they’re not thrilled about the fees, but they’ve accepted that they are firmly in the era of pay-to-play.

“It’s just commonplace. Everyone around the South Shore, they know it’s just ‘Hey, I’ve got to cut a check,’” said Greg Grey, a Hull resident whose son plays on the high school baseball and basketball teams. “(Parents) understand the situation and why the fees are there, but they’re not happy about it.”

Fees vary significantly between communities, but usually start at about $200 for the first sport.

Some school districts such as Abington, Braintree and Hingham charge a one-time fee that covers students for the entire year even if they play multiple sports.

Others, including Quincy and Scituate, charge a fee for each individual sport.

Fourteen of the 25 South Shore communities that charge fees cap the cost per family at between $300 and $1,125.

Towns such as Weymouth and Hanover charge per sport and have no family cap.

Only one town in the region is bucking the trend toward charging athletes’ families to play.

Randolph imposed a $150 per-student sports fee in 2003, but dropped it in 2008 after so many students had to drop out of the programs that many of the school teams barely had enough players or were forced to shut down.

Students stopped playing because they couldn’t afford the fee, school committee Chairwoman Marybeth Nearen said.

“Randolph has a very high low-income population,” she said. “We were actually keeping kids away from sports.”

Still, school officials in other districts and experts say it’s unlikely many more communities will see a return to the days when parents could send their children onto the field for free.