I was watching the news a few weeks ago and they were talking about how one school district in DFW will require students to pay to play – a fee (up to $60) – to participate in extracurricular activities (sports, band, etc). They’re supposedly doing this to help close the education budget gap, and they’re making some considerations for people who might not have the finances – $180 cap per family and kids on free and reduced lunch are exempt – Woo. Hoo. Either way you slice it – a pay to play rule in a public school system – is whack. And its whack for a couple of reasons.
I grew up in a single parent household and there were plenty of days when my mama couldn’t send me to school with LUNCH money, let alone give $60 so that I could run track. Do you know how many times I had to eat off of my homeboy’s plate just so I didn’t go back to class hungry? And that was in 7th and 8th grade. How many kids are living my past right now? How many single moms and dads are going to have to say no to sports just like they have to say no to lunch?
And what about those parents who make just enough money that they DON’T qualify for free or reduced lunch? Just because folks aren’t on free or reduced lunch doesn’t mean that times are any EASIER for them. Just because you’ve got a job doesn’t mean you’re not poor. They call it the working poor for a reason.
Hearing about stuff like this breaks my heart man, real talk…because playing sports is so much more than baseballs and jerseys. Playing sports in school gave me an outlet. I didn’t come from a rich, well off, or middle income family. I wasn’t creative. I wasn’t smart. I wasn’t a lot of things…but I WAS athletically gifted. That was one place where I could shine.
And to give you some perspective, you’re talking about someone who has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) – and that was BEFORE I was diagnosed. And while we’re being real, the “no pass, no play” rule was hard enough on me. It’s a good and valid rule, but I had to work three times as hard as my friends just to PASS – and that was with the help of tutors, and teachers, and modified tests…so playing sports was one place where I felt smart. Like I belonged to something. And it was the one place where I felt like a leader instead of a blank face in the classroom. I’d hate for a budget shortfall to take that feeling away from a kid.
Besides that, if my mama had to pay for me to play, I would have never met the Buzz Andrews of the world – and that would have changed the course of my life. Seriously. I would have never met the coach who changed my life. He believed in me and groomed me into the man and athlete that I have become. And so many coaches do that for their athletes. They teach life lessons, and discipline, and responsibility, and teamwork, and so many other lessons that you can’t learn from cracking open a textbook.
And sports kept me off the streets. I was never a knuckle head, but for some kids, bouncing a ball on the basketball court keeps them from slanging dope on the corner. You know? Sometimes getting tackled on the field keeps a kid from exchanging blows in a fist fight.
It’s not a catch-all or cure-all for the world’s problems but playing sports provides a positive distraction for kids who might otherwise fall into the wrong thing.
No matter how you slice it, at the end of the day we've got a school district in a public school system thinking about charging students and families for extracurricular activities - just to make ends meet. That's bad, and I think it is safe to say that our "rainy day" has arrived. Wouldn't you? And, I'm not talking about drizzle - it's raining cats, dogs, and donkeys.
That’s it. I could talk about this all day. $60 might be chump change to some folks, or another line item on the balance sheet, but that’s a light bill, a water bill, and rent money to some folks who might look a lot like you.
Point blank, a pay to play rule in public schools could easily rob kids of self confidence and opportunity that they might otherwise not know. So before you roll over accept this new “rule” as just another corner we’ve got to cut to “make things happen,” think about the all kids like me who will lose much more than a swing at the ball…if they are forced to pay to play.
So in the words of Steve Noviello, that’s my two cents. Spend it wisely.