Let's not kid ourselves, the costs of youth sports create barriers

May 29, 2012 By Craig Blumenshine, Staff Writer

In Wyoming, soccer may have found a solution

The idea that youth sports are becoming too expensive for kids should concern us all.

It's not just a national issue. There are kids right here in Fremont County who want to play youth sports, and should play those sports, but can't because it is just too dang expensive.

Take soccer, for example. If you can't afford to join what in Wyoming really is the private club of youth soccer, especially at the teen level, then you can find yourself on the outside looking in when it comes to participating and enjoying the sport.

Then, when high school soccer starts, it may be too late because the kids that have paid their way into playing during their teen years are too good, it may seem, so what was a temporary barrier to the sport has become permanent.

But there is an opportunity for change in Wyoming soccer. We can help make sure some kids don't fall through the cracks, and we'll talk about that in just a bit.

First, it's clear that the Riverton Youth Soccer Association for years has done its very best to keep its cost as low as it possibly can for participants. Riverton's fees for competitive soccer -- the level where most teens play the sport -- are among the state's least expensive at $125 per child for the spring season.

That cost, with a $50 deposit for a uniform, gets you on the field, but there are still cleats and shin guards to buy.

And, in big Wyoming, there is lots of travel. Participants in one of Riverton's competitive teams this spring had trips to Cody and Rock Springs, and overnight trips to Casper twice and to Sheridan for jamborees and tournaments.

So, because parents shoulder the cost, let's add in $200 for gas, $500 for five nights of hotels plus another $100 or so per family member for food for those trips.

Its expensive. And it's a lot more expensive for kids in other Wyoming towns.

If you have two kids in the program, the costs escalate. Luckily, some parents reach out to help some less-fortunate kids. But we really have created a program that some kids and their parents flat can't afford.

So it's even more important that Lander Valley High School girls head coach Dean Schaff's idea of establishing middle school soccer in Wyoming is championed.

"The more kids who participate, the better our schools and community are," Schaff said.

The research supports Schaff.

Kids who are in after-school activities and athletics do better in school and are more likely to seek education after high school. They make where we live a better place, and that should be important to all of us.

Schaff realizes the good in the sport reaching a socio-economic group that simply doesn't have the cash to allow its kids to play today.

Soccer is not alone. It's expensive to play hockey, to travel in baseball and basketball, and the list goes on and on.

But soccer is the only major high school sport that does not have an established middle school presence. And in the grand scheme of school economics, the costs of establishing a middle school soccer program are small. The opportunity to add to our kids' lives is worth every nickel.

Lander will start an intramural middle school soccer program next spring, according to Schaff, and there is interest in Worland and Gillette to establish middle school soccer. Riverton should jump on board with this idea too, according to retiring coaches Rick and Peggy Bergstedt.

We all share in the responsibility for helping our kids. We give when they come knocking at our doors, and our businesses become willing sponsors for a variety of causes.

Establishing middle school soccer, at least in Wyoming, will be worth every bit of the small investment required.

Have a great sports week! Go Big Red!

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