The Price of Sports

by Marisa MacDonald, Sports Reporter
graphic by Julie Wang

Every year, families are taken aback at the cost of registering for a school sport. According to the athletic department, the fees are still not enough to finance South’s bigger goals for the athletics program to allow South to grow to its highest potential.

To participate in South’s most expensive sports, including football, alpine skiing and lacrosse, the registration fee is $425, a $100 increase from every other sport. While this fee includes access to practice spaces and covers transportation, it does not compensate for everything; families must also pay out of their own pockets for add-ons such as equipment and personalized sweatshirts. 

Athletic Director Patricia Gonzalez said that when the Newton School Committee was deciding on the registration costs, they weighed each program’s different expenses, which largely remain fixed. 

“In this school, we don’t have the ability to raise or lower fees on a whim, because this is something that comes from the district,” she said. 

Gonzalez said that it is rare for schools to cover the costs of sports teams by relying solely on the city-provided budget. 

“Very few districts don’t have a fee for athletes because it’s a big financial burden for many districts’ budgets,” Gonzalez said. “The amount of student involvement is expensive.”

The combined funding covers transportation, referees’ and coaches’ salaries, rental spaces, new uniforms and safety equipment. On top of the basic necessities, some sports require unique resources, which further increases the need for funding. Nordic ski coach Jeff Riklin said that one of the team’s biggest expenses has been wax for their skis. 

“This was an easy year … We spent about $300 in wax, which is a very inexpensive year,” Riklin said. “We don’t have any judges or referees, so we’re very fortunate with Nordic. We’ve not been without money.”

Football coach Ted Dalicandro said that the fee for football is higher due to added COVID-19 related costs covering for extra equipment and a padded roster. 

“We have to get our equipment reconditioned every year because of the law so that the protective equipment is safe by Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards and Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association standards,” he said. “Usually football rosters are a lot bigger, so you also have more buses.”

Dalicandro said that underfunding prevents sports from providing better support for athletes, despite student-paid fees. 

“Every sport at every level could always use another coach,” he said. “You have a lot more people participating in sports, so you need more adult supervision, more coaches and safety things.” 

Riklin said that many coaches are also unfortunately underpaid.

“I work for pretty cheap money as a coach in soccer,” he said. “I do it because I love it.”

To circumvent the tight budget, teams have been successfully relying on fundraising, which also varies with each team’s willingness to put in the extra effort, Gonzalez said. Although not required, teams are encouraged to donate a portion of their raised funds to charity; Gonzalez said that teams have embraced the opportunity to support those in need.

“We always ask the students and the coaches to think beyond the structure … which ways the team can give back to the community as part of the fundraising effort,” she said. “It is not necessarily money — it’s the gift of time. Through the years, that was something that, when I came to South, I really supported the community outreach and the connection for students with the whole community.” 

By using the digital fundraising platform Snap! Raise, the boys’ soccer team raised $11,000, part of which went towards an end-of-season team banquet and to the Dana Farber Fund, the soccer team’s charity of choice.

South has established an easily accessible financial assistance process for families to utilize. Gonzalez said that the financial situation of a student has never barred them from participating in athletics. She said that through the financial assistance process, families can receive aid directly from South.

“Newton has this rule that students will not be denied an activity because they cannot afford the fees,” she said. “We always welcome them.”

Riklin said that the lessons students take away from participating in sports are invaluable.

“The most important thing for me is not the game. It’s about helping kids develop as people,” he said. “To watch kids in most cases, over four years, develop from these young kids into more self-confident, more mature people who have a better sense of self-awareness and learn how to become teammates, how to deal with people, sometimes come out of their shell …  these are real life skills, and for me, it’s extremely gratifying.”