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Many extracurricular activities are ‘pay for play,’ burdening parents

PHOENIX — High school football players celebrate when they score a last second touchdown to win the game, but long before they scored that touchdown, they may have had to pay just to get on to the team.

It’s called “Pay for play,” and it’s nothing new.

“Pay for play has been around ever since I was playing high school sports back in 1984,” said Chuck Schmidt, associate executive director of the Arizona Interscholastic Association. “It’s been around awhile. I just think it’s gaining more and more attention because costs continue to rise and those fees continue to rise.”

How much athletes pay depends on the school. Some charge a $200 sports participation fee. Some districts, including Mesa, have decided not to charge the fees this year.

But some parents say that, with all the money they spend on their kids’ sporting activities that are not associated with school, they completely expect to pay the school fees.

“The significance and development of club sports…travel teams, competitive leagues, as they’re called…a lot of parents are used to paying for that,” Schmidt said.

But it’s not just athletes that pay to play.

“There are dues for certain clubs, like the drama club or the chorus,” said shopping expert Trea Bodge. “There might be uniforms that they need to wear or maybe a costume for the school play.”

And all of those costs add up.

“Parents are anticipating spending about $400 per child throughout the school year to fund any extra curricular activities that their child might be involved in,” said Bodge.

And for low-income families, there may be help on the way in the form of the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s Team AIA program.

“One of our goals is to create a funding source that could allow schools or districts to apply for funds for kids to participate that may not be able to afford it,” Schmidt said.

Bodge said one way that families can save money is by having kids prioritize the activities they want to participate in.

“Maybe they can choose one, maybe two, activities per semester, depending on your budget, of course,” she explained. “Then if there’s something they’re interested in that is above and beyond your budget, I’d like to recommend that the kids maybe contribute money themselves.”

She said that money kids can earn by washing cars, mowing lawns or any other jobs they have could go a long way toward helping to pay for the activities they want to be involved in.