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Marketplace Scratch Pad

Stimulus for bumble bee soccer

Scott Jagow Oct 22, 2009

Here’s a subject that probably hasn’t gotten enough attention. Across the country, the funding for youth sports programs is being cut, and if the programs even survive, parents are being asked to fork out hefty sums just so their kids can play.

The group Up2Us is holding a national conference this week in Washington. It’s looking for corporate and government money to repair some of the damage. The group’s research suggests more than $2 billion was cut from youth sports programs last year. More from an Up2Us press release:

Hard hit by the recession, schools across the nation find themselves in the position of cutting programs and activities once viewed as essential, or asking parents to pay for children to participate in sports (called “pay to play”). Worcester, MA high school students wishing to play football must pay $1,000 for the twelve week season. At Oregon’s Parkrose High School, dance team members must pay $525. And in Minnesota’s Eastern Carver County School District, youth athletes must pay more than an average of $215 to participate in sports including gymnastics, swimming, cross country and wrestling.

On the Marketplace Morning Report, Mitchell Hartman reported on this. An excerpt:

Community groups like the YMCA, meanwhile, have cut their after-school programs. So have cities.

TORI HUTCHENS: They had to lay off two of the coaches that work at our neighborhood rec center.

That’s Tori Hutchens, a Denver graphic designer and soccer mom. She’ll spend a few hundred on a private soccer league now, and may forgo other sports altogether.

For me personally, playing organized sports as a kid was invaluable, not only for the exercise, but for the lessons I learned about effort, determination, teamwork, winning and losing — all the warm and fuzzy stuff that really is important. Later, I gave back by coaching and refereeing bumble bee soccer (you know, the kids move around the field in one giant swarm.) As I coached and refereed higher levels, of course, I came up against the dark underbelly of youth sports — the nasty parents. But maybe that’s for another blog post.

How to save youth sports? Bob Cook at trueslant.com says community sports programs (not high school varsity teams) could use a stimulus package:

…I would be hard-pressed to tell a school district it should cut teachers in favor of new artificial turf, or that federal stimulus money should pay to gas up the basketball team’s bus for an out-of-state tournament.

Instead, I think there’s a strong case to be made for some sort of stimulus for community sports programs and intramurals… Why not, for example, give grants to communities so they can reduce the price of children’s athletic programs, or so they can expand their offerings? What about a tax break for eligible youth sports expenses? (By that I mean sign-up fees and equipment for publicly run programs, not writing off the thousands you spent on your daughter’s personal softball pitching coach.)

Your thoughts? Is this something taxpayers should invest in? Or should parents have to shoulder most or all of the costs?

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