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Sports Talk

Last week, I opined that high school athletic programs must avoid pay-to-play, especially for the major money making sports. Athletics are not immune to today's spiraling costs. So what can be done to prevent charging kids to play ball?

Columbia County is considering dropping middle school golf and tennis teams. Their rationale for doing so is a good one. Kids that normally play golf and tennis can play on their own at clubs that their families belong to. It would be politically unpopular and a tough decision, but high schools may have to do likewise. Kids can access other places like country clubs and tax-subsidized recreation programs to participate in many sports, even though it will cost them there too.

Thomson High Principal Bill Reese, a long-time administrator, athletic director and coach suggests possible places for cuts.

"Schools are going to have to look hard at their awards system of buying jackets and letters as these items cost quite a bit," said Mr. Reese. "Some sports have gone heavy into individual bat and equipment bags for each kid also," he pointed out.

Mr. Reese makes a valid point. Letter jackets, bat bags and elaborate warm-up suits are nice, but certainly not necessities. In my day teams used the old Army duffle bag for all bats. Of course most baseball and softball players prefer using their own bats, which does save the school some money. Why charge kids to play and then give them a free luxury as part of the deal? That would just be using a student's money to buy these things that he could purchase himself if he so chooses. Perhaps the school could still pay for the actual letter award.

I also can pick a bone with the Georgia High School Association. The GHSA operates on membership dues from the schools and a hefty take from state playoff games and other contests beyond the regular season. The twelve percent they take off the top of football gates is a very heavy tax. The GHSA must have money to provide its governing services, but their share should come after the expenses of a game are paid.

The GHSA started requiring registered officials to pull the chains at state playoff football games several years ago. If the head linesman is competent, and the two schools can provide responsible, honest adult volunteers, this expense could be saved. Those more in touch with things than myself could find numerous cost saving moves I'm sure. To pay officials to do any job that can realistically be done for free while the players are paying would be ludicrous.

School officials are going to have to start making some difficult decisions in order to spare kids who can least afford it from paying to play. Some of these decisions may involve cutting out things that are now considered musts, but are not. All coaches in all sports, including football, will have to bite the bullet.

The adults in charge better cut any frills or they may be next in line. Some places are already cutting supplements. In a few more years, coaches, officials, and competition governing organizations may be asked to work for free. I think we know the unpopularity of pay-to-play would pale in comparison to that suggestion.

Web posted on Thursday, May 20, 2004

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