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High School and Youth Sports Becoming a Rich Family’s Game

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The majority of parents in the United States — 75%, according to one survey — encourage their children to play sports of some kind. The social, physical, and emotional development children can gain from indoor and outdoor sports is unmatched in many ways. Unfortunately, poorer kids are beginning to suffer, since sports are becoming increasingly expensive to participate in successfully, according to a recent piece by NPR.

The story highlights the plight of multiple people involved in youth sports across the country. One of the examples is Lenise White, a single mother from Baltimore, and her seven-year-old son, Timothy, who plays football.

“At the beginning of the year, you’re spending roughly $200 — $250 if you have to buy pads or pants,” White said. “If you have to buy shoulder pads, that might be another $100 to $150.”

Parents could be a few hundred dollars deep just to get their kid in uniform. Then the real costs start adding up. Travel, registration fees, clubs teams — and that’s just the bare minimum these days. Well-off families have the luxury of doing things like hiring personal trainers and buying top-of-the-line equipment.

In White’s case, she’s had to live shrewdly in order to provide her son with the opportunities to stay involved in football.

“I have penny-pinched,” White said. “I have not bought things for myself for lunch before, to make sure that my son could have the things that he needed — that I knew would make him happy, and would give him another perspective on the world around him. And one of those vehicles was football.”

While travel teams and private camps are certainly not necessary for success in a sport, they do provide unquantifiable advantages to those who partake. The increased level of competition and training is one factor, but perhaps more important is the access to college scouts and coaches who are spending more and more time looking at prospective players in these venues, rather than at traditional high school sporting events.

Darryl Hill is a former professional football player and current chair of Kids Play USA Foundation. He’s been following the changes in youth sports for a long time, and sees firsthand the effects these changes have had.

“These tournaments — out-of-town affairs — are now becoming a forum that scouts and coaches at the college level are looking to, to evaluate players,” Hill said. “So, these kids, who might need a scholarship, don’t get the exposure because they can’t afford to go to these tournaments.”

Even many public schools are now requiring registration or participation fees to play on a team. Worse yet, in Hill’s experience it’s the kids that get priced out of sports who end up turning to delinquent behavior. Since they can’t join a sports team, they find another “team,” out in the streets, to hang with.

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