Number of schools using pay to participate for athletics declines statewide

Four area schools have it, four don't

Football programs such as Reed City's will be starting practices on Monday. Reed City is among the area schools which does not have pay to participate.

Football programs such as Reed City's will be starting practices on Monday. Reed City is among the area schools which does not have pay to participate.

File photo

BIG RAPIDS -- Although participation in high school sports improved at Michigan High School Athletic Association schools during the 2021-22 school year, the percentage of member schools charging participation fees remained near its lowest of the last two decades after a major reduction during 2020-21 when fall and winter activities were affected by COVID-19.

That’s the word from the MHSAA which said only 40 percent of MHSAA member schools charged participation fees during the 2021-22 school year, following 41 percent using them during 2020-21 – after 48 percent of member schools reported charging them during the 2019-20 school year, when athletics operated normally until the pandemic resulted in a shutdown that March.

The dips into the low 40s were the lowest percentages of schools assessing fees since the 2006-07 school year.

“The MHSAA participation fee survey has measured the prevalence of charging students to help fund interscholastic athletics annually since the 2003-04 school year,” the MHSAA said in a press release. “The percentage of member schools charging fees crossed 50 percent in 2010-11 and reached a high of 56.6 percent in 2013-14 before falling back to 50 percent or below during recent years.”

The MHSAA said of the 690 schools (92 percent of membership) which responded to the 2021-22 survey, 279 assessed a participation fee, while 411 did not during the past school year.

The survey defined a participation fee as anything $20 or more regardless of what the school called the charge (registration fee, insurance fee, transportation fee, etc.).

Locally, the use of participation fees has varied.

Athletic directors Terry Martin, of Pine River and JJ Eads, of Baldwin, said their schools currently don’t have participation fees. Jay Wallace, who recently retired as Evart athletic director, said Evart had fees until the pandemic hit and hasn’t had them since.

At Reed City, athletic director Ryan Hansen said the school did not this past year and for the upcoming year does not have pay to participate.

“Our goal at Reed City is to create as many opportunities as possible for our children,” Hansen said. “Athletics are already financially stressful for many families without participation fees. By charging a fee, we are indirectly discouraging our children from getting involved in athletics.”

“Among schools assessing fees, a standardized fee for each team on which a student-athlete participates – regardless of the number of teams – has shown for a number of years to be the most popular method, with that rate at 46 percent of schools with fees for 2021-22,” the MHSAA said. “Next were 32 percent of assessing schools charging a one-time standardized fee per student-athlete, followed by 14 percent assessing fees based on tiers of the number of sports a student-athlete plays (for example, charging a larger fee for the first team and less for additional sports).

“The amounts of participation fees have remained relatively consistent over the last decade. For 2021-22, the median annual maximum fee per student was $150, and the median maximum fee per family was $300. The median fee assessed by schools that charge student-athletes once per year was $120, and the median fee for schools that assess per team on which a student-athlete plays was $75.”

The MHSAA also contributed to this report.