Youth sports are at the core of a typical American upbringing. Not only do sports encourage important skills such as teamwork, self-confidence, and health, but student athletes can get the chance to qualify for college scholarships after high school graduation.
However, despite the many positive aspects that sports can bring to students’ lives, youth sports are declining in rural America. This especially poses problems for students who are not given the same opportunities as their peers in urban communities. The cost of participation, lack of participants, and family moving trends all work to exacerbate this concerning issue to the point where participation in high school football is down 9 percent in the past few years in many states, especially in the northwest.
The High Cost of School Athletics
One major factor contributing to the lack of participation of young students in sports is the rising costs of participation. A report on the increasing cost of school athletics found that parents in the U.S. spend an average of $671 on uniforms and fees associated with playing sports. Furthermore, the report found that one in two parents spend more that $1,000 on sports per child every year.
While many families are able to afford the costs associated with school sports, for many other families, the costs are prohibitive. In fact, the report also states that 42 percent of families had at least one child participating in sports, and that of the 59 percent who have no children enrolled in sports, 14 percent stated high costs were the preventative reason.
While some students may be able to get their fees waived, not all schools have the funding to pay the fees of students whose families can’t afford the cost. This especially relates to rural schools, as rural areas are more likely to experience poverty, according to the Center for Public Education. For example, rural counties are 17 percent more likely to experience poverty, and rural families are more likely to fall into “deep poverty,” marked at less than half of the national poverty level.
This brings to light the question of whether schools should even charge students a fee, or make them “pay-to-play.” While the money has to come from somewhere, adjusting the funding could ensure that all students who want to play have the access to do so, giving more students opportunities for their futures.
Recently, the Lake Washington School District had to make the choice between asking student athletes to pay or shutting down their programs:
“After several community meetings, the Lake Washington School District adamantly made it a priority not to cut athletic programs. So the district took pay-to-play a step further this school year, raising its participation fee at the high-school level from $100 to a King County-high $275 per sport, per child.”
While this decision kept the program open, it simply shifted the burden of paying from the schools to the students and their families.
Lack of Players and Coaches
A second major factor in the decline of youth sport participation is a lack of players and coaches. This has gone so far as to cause some schools to cancel sports programs because they can’t find enough people interested in coaching the student athletes. The lack of coaches resulted in part from the migration from rural to urban areas.
In fact, social worker Goutham Menon of the University of Nevada, Reno termed the phenomena of talented professionals moving to urban environments “brain drain.” This migration pattern leaves behind employment gaps in rural areas that need qualified coaches, assistants, and volunteers to help ensure the success of rural students.
However, it’s not just a lack of professionals needed to help coach students. In some rural areas, there are simply not enough student players for sports programs to continue. For example, one rural football program in Marcola, OR only has 12 players in its football program. Of those 12, 9 will be graduating in the next 2 years, and there are not enough students in the following classes to replace them. In the next three freshman classes, students now in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, there are only 13 boys total.
How to Support Rural Student Success
The lack of students eligible to participate in Marcola endangers the program’s future. Without enough players to form a team, the school fears it will have to discontinue the program. This would have several foreseeable effects on students.
Firstly, students would be denied the opportunity to build essential skills, such as communication, decision-making, team work, time management, and self-esteem. Next, it would deny students the opportunity to be active after school. In a nation where rural communities are already facing higher rates of obesity and heart disease, this could have serious health impacts on students for the rest of their lives.
Additionally, sports can provide an important pastime for students to prevent them from falling into bad habits. Without a healthy and stable after-school activity, teens could fall into habits of substance abuse, drinking, and other unhealthy activities.
It’s important to provide young students with healthy activities after school. Ensuring that schools are properly funded through taxes is one step to make sure students can participate in sports, especially in rural areas. Additionally, ensuring the whole success of rural communities will encourage residents to stay and others to move there, preventing “brain drain” and professional gaps in rural areas.
Photo is pixabay creative commons
Guest Author Bio
Jori Hamilton is a writer and journalist from the Pacific Northwest who covers social justice issues, healthcare, and politics. You can follow her work on twitter @HamiltonJori, and through her portfolio at Writer Jori Hamilton.