(Chicago Tribune file photo)

(Chicago Tribune file photo)

By Matthew Barbato, Evanston Township
and Allison Cho, Walter Payton

College isn’t the only thing parents are worried about paying for. Getting involved in high school sports is considered a way to stay active and have fun, but competition and accumulating expenses can make things tough for students and parents.

There are a lot of unspoken “rules” that accompany participation in high school sports, especially when athletes want to compete at the varsity level. Even though all that is technically required of athletes is attendance at workouts, practices and games, high school athletes often feel urged to participate in club teams to show coaches their “extra” commitment.

“I feel pressured to participate in a specific club for volleyball in order to keep my spot on the team,” Walter Payton junior volleyball player Grace McDermott said. “I think that they do give the athlete an advantage but at a very high price.”

McDermott added that she thinks the problem is that often times, not everyone can afford the cost of extra opportunities.

High school sports alone can often be a financial burden to many parents, and often times an extra club team is not even in the conversation. A 2014 ESPN and Aspen Institute Project Play Survey shows that, following the risk of injury and quality of coaches, cost is a major concern for parents. The Aspen Institute also claims that parents of children on travel teams spend an average of $2,266 annually on their child’s athletic participation, but playing at “elite levels” can cost more than $20,000 annually.

Despite such high costs, students still believe these extra programs are beneficial to the athlete. Walter Payton junior track athlete Darwin Garay also pointed out how it could help the athlete progress.

“If one is really dedicated to improvement, it takes more than the usual,” he said.  “And better facilities and training is always an advantage. I think if you put that kind of money in, you do it because you truly like it (the sport).”

Evanston Township sophomore Jay Moore, who both swims and plays baseball, agreed.

“I think that there is definitely value in participation in programs beyond those offered by a high school,” he said. “Club teams allow athletes to play their sport for more of the year.”

Most parents also believe that they’re beneficial to the student as an athlete, but they don’t ignore the drawbacks. Peter Donati, whose daughter Katy Donati plays soccer and swims at Evanston Township, praised the social and physical advantages. He said his daughter made new friends and developed a sense of motivation while staying active.

“On the whole, I would say the experience of club sports was worth the expense.  That being said, there’s no question that club sports have become a major cost for many families,” he said.

Mother Holli Moore said she likes the social advantages but pointed out a potential downside.

“I like that he gets out of his normal social group and that he gets to interact with a different group of people, but it removes the possibility of having a summer job,” she said.

She added that, although it may be worth the money, it’s not worth the time it takes away. Vacations and jobs are often hard to schedule around these time-consuming programs and lessons in session.

“In a way, kids these days are playing too much,” Evanston Township baseball coach Chris D’Amato said. “Some of the advantages of playing for those teams are exposure to college recruiters, playing at a different stage such as playing at a college campus, and really just playing at a higher level. But the reality is that if you are truly a good athlete, you shouldn’t need to play with a club to get exposed. If you have the talent, recruiters will find you.”

D’Amato’s message is that you don’t need all of the expensive club stuff to get better, but that just working with your high school team builds camaraderie and can end up being equally as beneficial.

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