Manistee joins growing list of schools charging athletes to be part of a team

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a four-part series related to MAPS athletic changes

Thursday: The elimination of freshman sports
Friday: How other Manistee County schools view pay-to-play
Saturday: How the co-op Chippewa hockey team funds its own program

Coaches have long asked players to give their all when it comes time to compete. Manistee Area Public Schools is now going to demand more of its athletes.

In difficult financial times in which budgets are heavily scrutinized, MAPS made a number of changes to its athletic programs, most notably implementing pay-to-play for all of its sports. Superintendent John Chandler said the decision essentially came down to either charging students to play or eliminating sports.

“It’s basically about the equivalent of one to two sports that we don’t have to look at cutting,” he said. “We didn’t go too far down the line of looking at eliminating (sports) because we didn’t want to do that. But, I think it’s fair to say that had we not looked at pay-to-play, we would have looked harder at eliminating something.”

Manistee athletic director Kenn Kott said it’s difficult to start charging students, but upholding the total number of opportunities is the priority.

“We’ve been very fortunate to not have to worry about it for several years, but the last thing you want to do is lose those programs,” he said. “We have a good interest in our sports programs and we like to offer a good variety. If it comes down to having to pay a little bit more for some of the players to participate — unfortunately, most of the parents are the ones who have to foot that bill — we hope it works out and we hope we’re able to keep all the programs we have by doing it.”


The numerous athletic changes — which include eliminating freshman sports and school-purchased insurance policies, absorption of the MHS athletic director into administration and pay-to-play — are estimated to save MAPS about $50,000, Chandler said, with $15,000 being budgeted for participation fees. The latest survey compiled by the Michigan High School Athletic Association shows that of the 62 percent of schools that responded, 47 percent assessed a pay-to-play fee during the 2009-10 school year.

The pay-to-play fee per sport at Manistee High School will be $20 for a free-lunch student, $30 for a reduced-lunch student and $40 for a full-priced lunch student. For middle school sports and high school activities, the fees will be $10/$15/$20. There is a $100 per-student cap and a $175 per-family limit.

The MHSAA survey shows that schools had a per-student maximum fee between $10 and $450 with a median of $150. The annual maximum family fees ranged between $50 and $720 with a median of $248.

“It’s a paradigm shift, that’s for sure,” Johnson said of pay-to-play. “We see an uproar going up sometimes in school districts where they’ve instituted a fee as little as $50. But, $50 is a lot of money to some people right now. We’ve seen school districts that just a few years ago were charging $100, $150 for a kid to play as many sports as they wished now charging $300. Of course, you have the ultimate in pay-to-play happening at some schools where schools are telling certain sports they have to be completely self-funded with nothing coming from the school at all. That’s how hockey has functioned largely for a number of years. It’s how bowling got in the doors at some schools and lacrosse at some schools.”


The MHSAA survey showed that 14 percent of schools in pay-to-play reported a drop in participation because of fees.

“I’m sure they all have situations where parents and students, due to our economic times, just don’t have the money to do it,” Kott said.

Chandler said that’s an obvious concern, but one that is going to be addressed.

“I hate to (start pay-to-play) because I always fear there’s a family out there that will not be aware that we will help any family that can’t afford to pay it,” he said. “Or they’ll be too proud to step forward and say ‘I need help’ and so therefore their kids just won’t participate.”

Prior to being hired at MAPS, Chandler had experience in pay-to-play at Manistique and said it worked well. He also made it clear that anyone who can’t afford the fees at Manistee will not be overlooked.

“I think it’s very important to know that any family that has a financial need, we’ll scholarship them,” he said. “I’ve got groups, I’ve got individuals, people I don’t even know have come up to me and said, ‘hey, if you have families that can’t afford this, call and I’ll pay for them.’ I’ve had staff say that. No kid should ever not play because of finances. I would say that goes not only for the pay-to-play, it goes for whether they can’t afford the shoes, or anything.

“If a family can’t afford to participate in extra-curricular activities, I believe we have the resources on staff and in the community to make sure those kids can participate,” he added. “You’ve got to let us know.”


The MAPS athletic fund budget has decreased steadily over the last four years with total expenditures down from $434,763 in 2008-09 to $327,572 for the 2011-12 proposed budget. Over that same period of time, transfers from the general fund have decreased from $411,000 to $290,000.

The changes put in place for the upcoming year are significant. Whether or not MAPS will need to make additional moves in the near future is unclear and depends on a lot of factors, Chandler said, including whether or not the bond proposal passes on Tuesday.

“My goal, a lot of people’s goal here, is that what we have this year is what we’re able to carry forward to next year and we’ve got a great boost on that with the teacher concessions,” he said. “Whatever we have this year … it’s very possible we’ll have the same things next year. I don’t see any changes for the following year. A year after that, who knows? It’s going to depend a lot on state funding, where that’s gone. … I think we’re looking good for the next two years.” “It’s what school districts in some places feel they must do in order to try to help ends meet,” said MHSAA communications director John Johnson. “Even though the school athletic budget is 1 to 2 percent of a typical school district budget, everybody is being asked to give right now.”

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