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Will pay-to-play ruin school sports?

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As sports teams begin practice this year at schools across the country, many parents and student athletes are realizing that it may take more than just talent to make the cut.

Increasingly, schools are charging participations fees to be on a team – a trend that educators and sports advocates say is a danger to the concept of public education and the overall effort to get more kids involved in athletic activities.

"Pay-to-play" programs, as they are called, generally charge students about $50 to $250 per season.

Sometimes the fees are greater. In Worcester, Mass., for example, Oakmont Regional High School charges student athletes more than $1,000 to play football.

Although some schools give exceptions for athletes who cannot afford the fee, parents and administrators have raised concern about creating a two-tier system at a public school, in which some kids have to pay, and others don't. Moreover, it would be awkward, at the very least, for a student to have to claim financial hardship to a coach or athletic department.

"It's a big issue here," says Gayle Mulligan, a mother of two who was involved in protesting a pay-to-play proposal in Hebron, Conn. "Hebron is traditionally a farming town. [Participation fees] would be unfair for families who could not afford them. It could make a big difference for some kids when they decide if they want to go out for a team."

Moreover, observers say, the implementation of pay-to-play seems to lead to lower participation – at a time when participation is rising in schools that don't charge to play sports. The implication, should the trend continue, is that playing a sport at a public high school is a privilege to be paid for, not something earned through effort.

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