Drastic hike in activity fee may hurt participation in Greencastle-Antrim

PAT FRIDGEN

A move by the Greencastle-Antrim school board on May 5 has some people wondering about the ramifications. On a 5-3 tally, the board approved an increase in activity fees for students in the middle and high schools. Eric Holtzman, Mike Shindle, Brian Hissong, William Thorne and Howard Ritchey, voted yes; Melinda Cordell, Kristy Faulkner and Paul Politis voted no. Joel Fridgen was absent.

Fees were raised for activities that were an expense to the school district, either through personnel or transportation. The Tier One sector includes students involved in interscholastic athletics and music, specifically indoor guard, percussion, marching band and field band. The activity fee will be $100 per student. Those eligible for reduced lunch will be assessed $18 and those on free lunch will be exempt.

Tier Two covers Drama Club and the high school Weight Club. The fees are $45, $9, and free, respectively. The cap for all students is $225 per school year.

Activities which will not result in fees are clubs and service organizations that require no transportation, and any salary is already included in the advisor's stipend. A few of these are Art Club, student council, National Honor Society and Peer Leaders.

The board also authorized the district to begin charging admission to field hockey games, and track and field meets. The ticket prices will be the same as for other athletic events — $5 for adults for high school games, and $3 for middle school games, and $2 for students. There will be no charge for baseball and softball fans. Also, the age for the Blue/Gold Pass, a lifetime admittance for resident senior citizens, was raised from 60 to 65 years.

Superintendent Dr. C. Gregory Hoover estimated the fees would raise an additional $20,000. For many years the district charged $10 per activity. Last year it went to $30, with a $75 cap. Hoover expected not as many students would continue to participate, so his estimate on the additional revenue was on the low side.

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Athletic director Vicki Ritchey reported the participation rates for the sports teams this year: baseball 30, basketball 116, cheerleading 40, cross country 35, field hockey 70, football 130, golf 14, soccer 70, softball 27, swimming 3, track and field 165, volleyball 49 and wrestling 40. Many of the students were involved in more than one sport. About 53 kids were in the band groups.

Ritchey was afraid the higher fees would result in lower participation. She knew one argument for the increase was that families pay similar amounts for club sports and community teams. However, she wanted the youth to continue to play for the school.

"We want kids in school sports. It's part of the educational process."

She pointed out that they learned to work together as a team, and practiced for two hours a day in a healthy, structured setting.

"Our athletes put so much time and effort into sports," she continued. "They go above and beyond and now get hit in fees, compared to kids who don't do anything."

She considered the increase "extreme". She had hoped it would only be $60. And with the rise in gate fees, parents in particular would get hit a second time.

Ritchey expected that families who needed financial help would not allow it due to pride. They would simply not allow their children to participate. She also thought people would have illusions on playing time, since some refer to the fees as 'pay-to-play'.

"The activity fee offsets costs, but it doesn't mean equal playing time. This will be a huge burden on coaches since parents will expect that. It will be a nightmare."

Most of the sports and the band program have booster clubs, which raise money to support needs and provide some extras to the activities. Joe Schaeffer, president of the Quarterback Club, said the group has been active for at least 25 years. It raises money through 200 Club drawings, a sponsorship letter, by selling discount cards, merchandise at football games, and 50/50 drawings.

The money in turn is used to purchase training equipment, a misting tent, hydration stations, and clinics for coaches. The boosters pay for meals for the week-long 3-a-day football camps, meals for away games, chartered buses for far away games, player meals at the annual banquet, and gifts for the high school teams each year. The items all have the Blue Devil logo.

Schaeffer thought fewer youth would go out for football in the fall.

"I can't see boys paying that who don't play a lot. The coaches will catch more heck, too."

The Quarterback Club members have already talked about what they could do to help offset player costs. They will discuss it again at their June meeting.

Angie Schaeffer, part of the baseball boosters, said that group has been visible for about five years. It relies on earnings from the concession stand during football and soccer games. The boosters buy equipment and apparel for the teams, help fund a spring training trip, and pay for field improvements at Jerome R. King Playground. The players personally benefit with some gifts of clothing, a parting gift for seniors, and some food at the annual picnic.

The group planned to discuss the matter at its next meeting.

"I think all booster clubs will try to consider how to help out," said Schaeffer.

The Band Boosters has been going strong for decades. President Brian Carter said its income came from the fall AutumnFest, the winter Indoor Guard show, Bingo, and by students selling Bonus Books, cheesecake and candy. The students were allowed to put the latter profit into their individual accounts to help pay for trips.

The boosters used their funds to contribute half the cost of new uniforms every 10 years or so, for equipment, meals for band camp each summer, and also to provide food for the band at football games. They discussed the jump in fees last week.

"We may let the students use the money in their accounts to pay the activity fee," said Carter.

He also thought it a possibility fewer kids would join the band, since the participation fee rose from $10 to $100 in two years. They were the same kids who were typically involved in many activities and would reach the cap.

"We're concerned. This will cause people to make decisions we don't want them to have to make. Many families can't afford it."