Stephanie Taylor of Einstein High School, one of the most versatile female athletes in Montgomery County, has been offered college scholarships in volleyball, soccer and basketball. To participate in these sports at her high school, she must pay $6 per sport.
Erik Chapman's touchdown pass gave De Matha its first Metro Conference football title in 14 years. But he couldn't have played if he hadn't paid an athletic participation fee of $25.
All-Met running back Paul Palmer helped Churchill reach the Maryland Class AA football final at Byrd Stadium, but he had to pay $2 for the bus ride.
Four other schools in Montgomery County charge some sort of fee for participation in athletics.
Because of voter-mandated budget cuts (like California's Proposition 13 and Prince George's County's TRIM) and rapidly rising equipment and transportation costs, many youngsters throughout the country must supplement their school athletic budgets. It's called pay for play.
"It costs about $25,000 to run an athletic program, and that doesn't count buying new equipment for the various teams," said Al Ferraro, athletic director at Einstein. "We made about $11,000 from football and basketball gate receipts. Even with the school board subsidy ($7,000) and $5,000 from the booster club, we still came up short. We had to do something.
"So, we instituted a $6 fee for all athletes this past year to offset transportation costs. The budgets at two-thirds of the schools in the county are in the red. Many of the AA schools (Einstein is a class B school) are barely making it. Everyone else is losing money despite the school board subsidy.
"If a student can't afford the fee, we waive it, but we have to make the money somewhere. Nobody wants this participation fee, but we had to do something. We didn't want to cut any sports because that would be cheating the kids."
The general rule of high school sports has always been: if you're good enough, you play. In lieu of the economic realities of the 1980s, that is slowly being modified to: regardless of how talented you are, you may have to pay to play.
A handful of cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Seattle, Des Moines and Berkeley already have eliminated or reduced their athletic programs and sought alternative measures to raise revenues.
More than 11 percent of the nation's public schools (30 percent of the schools in Michigan, Ohio, Utah and California) are using some form of short-term, pay-for-play fees to sponsor athletic programs, according to a recent joint study by the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and the American Sports Education Institute (ASEI).
Both organizations say those figures are increasing rapidly. The pay-for-play fees include a minimum of $1 per sport or bus ride to as much as $150 a year--with no waiver (in some areas) for students financially unable to play. It's a situation nobody likes.
"Pay for play reminds us of what Winston Churchill said about democracy," said Bill Palmer, executive director of the Booster Clubs of America and the ASEI. "That it was a dreadful form of government far superior to anything else. It is only a stopgap measure in school fund-raising."
Selling candy, cookies, fruit, T-shirts and other popular school paraphernalia are the main fund-raisers for most of the nation's schools. There are other ways; perhaps the one with the greatest potential is booster clubs.
According to Palmer, more than $1 billion is raised annually by booster clubs across the nation. One booster club in Middletown, Conn. raises more than $150,000 each year. A walkathon produced more than $40,000 this year.
In Montgomery County and Northern Virginia, booster clubs raise between $4,000 and $8,000 per school per year. Most of the money comes from concessions, program books and selling various items during the year.
"I usually ask my booster club to purchase one uniform for each team," said Bill Caudill, athletic director at W.T. Woodson in Fairfax County, who estimated his booster club raises an average of $7,500 per year. "To do that, they have to raise money. They have all types of fund-raisers here and usually are successful."
Nationally, some areas in California have proposed a surcharge on professional sports, with the money going to scholastic sports. A growing number of corporate sponsors along the East Coast donated funds to struggling athletic programs. For instance, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner recently contributed half the $300,000 necessary to save New York City scholastic sports.
Some cities even have considered cable television or a game-of-the-week attraction as a source of revenue.
"I know other cities are trying all types of ideas to help revenues but D.C. is just not ready for that," said Vinna Freeman, supervising director for health, physical education, athletics and safety in the District's public schools. "Now, if the economy doesn't change soon, many jurisdictions will have to consider that avenue.
"I don't like the pay-for-play idea at all. Our superintendent supports athletics in our schools and we're not heading in that direction right now. If we had to go that route, it would kill our program. Our kids just can't afford to pay to participate in athletics."
Tom Paskalides, athletic director in Prince George's County, agreed an athletic fee would place a burden on many of the county's students, but wouldn't rule it out.
"We'd have to explore such a plan (to see) if it would bring in revenue," said Paskalides, who may face yet another budget cut next year. "But if we went in that direction, I believe every school should do it, not one or two."
Prince George's County was the first locally to feel the financial crunch last year, when more than $400,000 was cut from a $1 million athletic budget. The cutbacks curtailed nonrevenue sports and eliminated many coaching positions.
Elsewhere in the nearby area, Howard, Washington, Carroll and Hereford counties are in similar financial situation and have either cut or curtailed services at the secondary level.
Transportation costs have more than doubled in the past five years for most area high schools. The cost of outfitting a football player is nearly $250, a 100-percent increase since 1972. Gate receipts have also increased, but not fast enough to keep up with inflation. Gate receipts now constitute less than half the revenue required to operate an interscholastic athletic program.
It's come down to this: pay your way or risk having the program dropped.
De Matha has perhaps the nation's best-known high school basketball program, but Morgan Wootten, the coach and athletic director, has been unable to balance the books for more than five years without a mandatory $25 athletic participation fee.
Many schools in Northern Virginia have been able to break even or finish in the black because of their successful night football programs and generous booster clubs.
Night football has been largely ignored by Montgomery County and the District's Interhigh League. The Interhigh has three lighted fields, but played only five night games last season. According to the athletic directors at Theodore Roosevelt, Spingarn and Dunbar, each game made nearly three times as much money as the usual Friday afternoon games.
Prince George's started night football four years ago and its financial situation has improved dramatically.
Good Counsel High School, a private school in Wheaton, installed lights four years ago and has drawn from 1,500 to more than 3,000 fans to each game, even during losing seasons. (This attendance figure doesn't count concession revenue of approximately $1.50 per person.)
Although many schools are supporting their programs because of night football, athletic directors say the once-a-week athletic event doesn't produce nearly enough revenue to finance a program.
"I recently returned from an athletic directors' national convention and this pay-for-play plan was being discussed. It really scares me," said Caudill. "But what's the answer? As a father, I'm very willing to pay the fee to keep my sons involved. As an AD, I'll beat the bushes before I cut out a sport.
"We're in the black right now, but the way things are, we'd better be thinking in that direction. We have two options: cut out some sports or ask for help," Caudill said. "We have 2,300 students here and about 50 percent of them play sports. If each athlete (1,100) paid $10 each, that would bring in another $11,000. That surely would help us. I'd just hate to see that day come."