High school sports: What it really costs to play high school football

Published: Monday, Sept. 2 2013 3:35 p.m. MDT

Equipment on the sideline during the Alta and East prep football game in Salt Lake City, Friday, Aug. 23, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

EDITOR’S NOTE: The parents and some of the coaches who spoke to the Deseret News asked not to be identified as they feared repercussions. We’ve identified the parents only by their school district.

The mom sat uncomfortably in the parent meeting listening to the costs associated with playing high school football. As coaches discussed the numbers, she started to worry.

“I was afraid I couldn’t afford it,” said the mother of three boys, one of whom plays football in the Granite District. “I started adding the costs up in my head, and I started to panic.”

Football was her oldest son’s favorite sport, but her budget was so tight that coming up with an extra $300 or $400 would be difficult. Another mom said the associated costs necessary to compete continued throughout the school year, and the pressure to pay was immense. In fact, she’s still paying for one trip that she put on a credit card a year ago.

“When they ask for $100 here or $100 there, I didn’t realize it was going to get up to that much,” said another mom, whose daughter participated in sports in the Canyons District. “I felt pressure. I didn’t really want to say, ‘I can’t afford it.’ ”

These mothers aren’t alone in their worry or confusion. As the popularity and profile of high school sports continues to grow, so too have the costs.

So just how much does it cost to play high school sports? Who decides what costs are fair and reasonable? And who ensures that children who can’t afford to pay can still play?

The Deseret News investigated these issues as they relate to the state’s highest-profile and most profitable sport — football.

Revenues and costs

A successful football program can translate into success and additional resources for a lot of other programs at the 103 Utah schools that participate in the sport.

“High school football is the beast, just like college football is the beast,” said Mike Fraser, a former football coach and Granite District’s assistant superintendent over school accountability services. “A great program funds a whole lot of things at the school. If you are a high school that has a really poor football program, you’re lucky if your gates cover your costs. … Your athletic programs are at a distinct disadvantage.”

Conversely, determining what it actually costs to play high school football is difficult. That’s because not only does it depend on where a student attends school, it also depends on what other "optional" costs are involved.

And while state laws protect and provide options for students without the means to pay, there is little if any enforcement of that law. There is also confusion about what the law requires of public schools' extracurricular programs.

The Deseret News asked nine school districts to summarize the costs of their football programs at each school. Of the 39 schools surveyed, only Murray, Enterprise and Provo high schools did not respond to the requests.

For families who have kids playing high school football, there are two primary costs: district fees and optional fees.

The district-approved or imposed fee is usually listed on fee schedules, which are available on school websites and are often mailed to parents before students register for school.

In all but the Salt Lake District, those fees were the same for every school within a district. The lowest fee reported was $35 at West High. Davis District’s $65 was the lowest standardized fee, while the Jordan District was the most expensive, charging a $175 participation fee.

These district fees are approved by each local school board and can be waived if students qualify.

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