Pay To (Not) Play: No Refunds: Pandemic Impacts Student Athletes, Family Expenses by Grace Asaad

After Nation Ford shut down because of COVID-19 in mid-March of 2020, many student athletes were unable to complete their season, yet the fees students paid to play were not refunded. Fall athletes whose seasons were cut short due to quarantine also paid the fees, which amounted to $92,650 across the entire Fort Mill School District for the fall 2020 season and averaged to $30,883 per high school, according to the Assistant Superintendent of Finance/Operations Leanne Lordo.

Some students who qualify for free or reduced lunches also have to pay the athletes fee if they wish to play any sport. Although, some scholarships are available for students who may not be able to afford  to pay the athletic fee.

The $100 middle and high school athletes fee pay in Fort Mill schools is collected “to help offset the cost of the athletic programs to the district which are traveling (buses and drivers), coaches stipends, and any other expense for athletics that falls on the District Office to pay,” explained Nation Ford Athletics Director James Shackleford. 

A few school sports, including soccer and lacrosse, were able to play some games, while golf, tennis, baseball, and softball were scrimmaged. Certain sports were able to play pre-season games, matches, or meets, but were unable to do much since the start of COVID-19. 

The pandemic presented a problem with no easy solution: how do school sports continue when medical experts say athletes must stay distant from one another? At first the solution was clear — sporting events, practices, and team meets were cancelled to stop the spread of a deadly coronavirus, but as the virus spread and still showed little sign of slowing, school officials searched for a way students could have sport meets while still following The Centers for Disease Control guidelines about youth sports.

The CDC has not updated their recommendations for student athletes since December 2020, but the organization recommends that all sporting events still being held should be outside, and the athletes should be vaccinated (if possible) and wear a mask. 

Sports are currently in full swing with occasional shutdowns due to quarantine. Sports like cheerleading and boys basketball have already had to quarantine for 14 days. Though in Spring 2020 most athletes were never able to play a game or participate in sporting events, they were still required to pay the $100 athlete fee, and the Fort Mill School District has set this price as a precedent for all student athletes (though no transportation was involved). Students who paid this fee and did not participate in sporting events were never refunded the money. 

The coaching salaries are  directly funded from the $100 athletic fee and the district was determined to fulfill their commitment to the coaches and provide them with their full salary. For each sport, the coaching salary is different, but the district spends approximately $158,500 on coaches, assistant coaches, and trainers.

The district made a commitment to continue paying salaries for all employees, even as they perform their duties remotely. Included in these employees are coaches of athletic programs. 

In the Summer of 2020, the school district released a statement saying, “Coaches have continued working during this closure. They have stayed in contact with athletes, provided at home workouts and training plans, and have prepared the programs for next year including planning and season scheduling.”

 Some coaches kept in touch with their athletes by hosting zoom calls and providing a list of workouts that they were able to do at home.

However, some student athletes reported very little instruction from coaches at that time. When one student athlete was asked about the kind of workouts provided by the coaches last spring, he said, “My coach just told us to stay active.”

Another student athlete, Kaiden Bridges (‘22)  plays on the varsity girls soccer team. 

“I believe that the coaches did well in the aspect that they still kept in touch with us and did everything in their power to keep us in the mindset of playing soccer even in the middle of the pandemic,” she said. 

Student athletes who paid the $100 fee last year continued to pay the fee again this year, in spite of the pandemic’s effect on their sport’s season. Additionally, some students play more than one sport, and many families have more than one child involved in athletics.

 “I wish it was a one time fee instead of $100 per sport. It can deter some athletes from participating in multiple sports simply because they cannot afford to pay the fee,” Coach Shackleford said. “I believe every student should have the opportunity to play every sport and a fee should not stand in the way.” 

The Fort Mill School District has not lowered the price nor refunded the student athletes who paid the fee. 

Later in their statement, the district said coaches played an important role in returning a sense of normalcy for the student athletes.

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