A recent analysis of “pay for play” participation programs — which require fees for student involvement in athletics — at schools comparable to Wilton High School revealed a variety of approaches taken to cover the expenses of high school sports.
At the town’s Dec. 13 Board of Education meeting, Wilton’s school board reviewed viable options to raise revenue for athletics, and examined various ways high schools within Wilton’s District Reference Group A, also known as DRG-A, raise participation fees for their sports programs. For instance, Wilton’s school district is the only among DRG-A that does not allow payments at the gates of sports events to go toward school athletic programs.
Board of Education members Lory Rothstein and Laura Schwemm prepared a comprehensive report on comparable districts with the intention of comparing fees paid by Wilton parents with those of related schools. They were determined to create an impartial study and abstain from taking a position on the town’s role in “pay for play.”
The findings were also limited to athletics at the high school level, excluding extracurricular activities such as clubs, theater programs and music classes.
“Over the past few months we have examined the topic of participation fees at the high school level,” Ms. Rothstein and Ms. Schwemm wrote in their report to the school board. “We undertook this study as a way to educate ourselves about the issues, and to understand how other DRG-A districts address ‘pay for play.’”
Research included asking all the superintendents within DRG-A for thoughts and descriptions on various methods to raise revenues for high schools sports.
Dr. Bernard Josefsberg of Region 9 (comprising Easton and Redding schools) said his school board imposes no participation fees. Dr. Stephen Falcone of Darien said a $100 fee is imposed on each athlete, with additional fees assessed on students who participate in ice hockey, squash and sailing.
Jay Egan, athletic director for New Canaan, said his district offers an umbrella “all-sports booster club,” which provides the district with an annual donation of $100,000, with additional fees assessed on boys and girls hockey programs.
Each student at Wilton High who belongs to an athletic team must pay a $50 participation fee, which is aggregated to cover insurance costs. About 750 students paid the fee last year, generating $37,500 for the school board, according to the report.
Ms. Rothstein and Ms. Schwemm concluded the burden of collecting fees in Wilton has disproportionately fallen on coaches, who are responsible for tracking the status of players’ dues.
Parents of children who are not starting for high school teams have advocated for reduced fees because their children are receiving comparatively less playing time and less of the coaches’ attention. Other parents have urged the school board to charge more participation fees to generate additional funding for public education. According to the report, imposing additional fees could bear the risk that parents will choose to not allow their children to participate in high school sports.
The report also noted that DRG-A districts are comparatively wealthy, and there is a general expectation that athletic costs can be absorbed by the school board’s operating budget.
“In order to assess the level of fees already paid by Wilton athletes, we reached out to the presidents of booster clubs,” Ms. Rothstein and Ms. Schwemm wrote. “We asked a series of identical questions about mandatory fees required of each athlete, as well as parent-provided equipment and training.”
The report concluded there are many methods to collect athletic revenue. Annual revenue from participation fees ranges from zero at Joel Barlow and Westport High to $323,000 in Ridgefield, according to the report. Costs for New Canaan, Weston, Barlow, Darien, and Wilton are significantly reduced by booster club support.
Booster club contributions, which are raised at food stands and various fund-raisers, help supplement the costs of sports and often provide for extraneous spending, such as team dinners, coaches’ gifts, snacks and meals at practices and competitions, award plaques, and banners and scholarships. Support has also included costs of scoreboards, wind screens and mats. Booster club annual dues range from $50 to $150.
Wilton parents also help reduce athletic costs by purchasing equipment and paying for pre-season training.
“Wilton parents also give generously of their time.” wrote Ms. Rothstein and Ms. Schwemm. “No line item in the budget can replace this, but it is important to give credit for something that has no price.”