Voluntary pay-to-play program hits high schools

By: Lien Hoang, Special to The Placer Herald
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Student athletes and their parents for years have been used to paying roughly $100 for transportation to and from games. This school year, the Rocklin Unified School District will ask them to pay about the same — but now they’ll have to find their own rides. In a time of tightening belts, the district is doing away with most sports transportation at Rocklin and Whitney high schools. But it must also replace $88,000 cut from sports, or risk cutting teams. To raise that money, the new Voluntary Athletic Contribution program requests $125 per student per sport, plus $100 for the second sport or family member, and $75 after that. There is a cap of $450 per household. “We have avoided that economic bullet by putting in this voluntary program,” Whitney High School Principal Debra Hawkins said. The key word is voluntary. While students at both schools have expressed concern for classmates who can’t afford such a fee, it’s not mandatory. But if the fundraising goal isn’t met, administrators have already identified which sports teams would have to go. While not yet willing to make the list public, principals at both schools said reductions will start with freshman and junior varsity teams. “If we do not get the participation level we hope, next year in spring we will have to go back and put certain sports on the chopping block,” Hawkins said. Students and parents are just starting to hear about the voluntary contribution, which is being received with both irritation and understanding. “I don’t think that’s right – my dad’s going to blow up,” said Garrett Butts, a rising sophomore who will play for Whitney’s water polo team. But when he couldn’t think of another way to close the $88,000 gap, he conceded, “This could be the right way.” Courtney Kay Grant, a senior at Rocklin High School, agreed the contribution is necessary. “I think that’s a great idea,” said Grant, who plays basketball. “I know that a lot of funds are being cut from our sports programs.” Based on nearby school districts, Rocklin High School principal Michael Garrison said he’s shooting for 90 percent participation from student athletes. He and others who introduced the contribution also considered simply eliminating sports teams, or allowing them to raise funds on their own. “But we don’t want a ton of coaches out there hitting up our communities and asking for money,” Garrison said. “So we thought the best idea was a group effort.” Geordon Lindamood would have preferred the individual fundraising option. As a member of Rocklin’s football team — generally the most lucrative sport for a school — he pointed out the inequities among different teams. “I think for some sports, the money (VAC) is needed, such as golf or water polo because they do not have a lot of fundraising,” he said. “But for football, we have many fundraisers where thousands of dollars are earned every time, so asking every family to contribute 100 more dollars seems like a little too much.”