Clemens Field rock with PHS pained on it
PHS rock at Clemens Field (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Philomath School District opted to waive athletic participation fees for the 2020-21 school year in an effort to not only encourage more students to engage in sports but to remove any financial obstacles that could be keeping some from competing.

The pandemic has strained a number of family budgets and depending on the number of student athletes in the household, some who compete in multiple sports, the participation fees add up fast.

“If you had two kids at the high school level playing three sports each, you’re paying $900 a year just for the participation part,” Philomath High Athletic Director Tony Matta said. “That’s not counting the shoes, the glove, the tennis racquet … So you’re spending quite a bit of money for your kids to participate and for some families, that’s not possible.”

Participation fees are being waived at both the high school and middle school. The revenue lost from the fees will be replaced through Student Investment Act funding.

“We thought it was going to happen last year and then the pandemic hit,” Matta said. “The ability to do it using dollars from the state to replace that revenue is important and hopefully that is stable funding so that we don’t have to revisit adding back participation fees.”

Participation fees have been around for more than 25 years now with the state’s passage of Measure 5 in the 1990s. The measure placed limits on property tax levys and forced the state to make up the difference in school financing from its general fund. The result threatened the existence of many high school athletic programs.

Matta said the Student Investment Act was designed to provide funds to create opportunities for students.

“It’s what a lot of districts are doing around the state,” he said. “I was really surprised that Cascade was the last one left in our district that’s going to maintain their fees this year. But as they go through the year, that could change, recognizing that some kids’ families have been hit economically, so you try to eliminate as many barriers as you can from kids being involved.”

At Philomath High, athletes paid $175 for the first sport, $150 for the second and $125 for the third.

“We actually started the conversation to at least reduce participation fees a year and a half ago or so, knowing that for some kids those fees were a barrier,” Matta said. “There was help from the Booster Club and some internal scholarships and we still had kids that wouldn’t even ask for that … and so they didn’t participate in things.”

The pandemic hit participation numbers hard in most sports at schools across the state. Matta hopes to see more students getting involved with athletics with the elimination of the fees.

“Over the next couple of years, we want to see those numbers grow,” he said. “A large percentage of our kids do participate but we want more. If you look at a lot of sports, the more kids you draw in, the better practice is, the better competition for playing time is and everybody gets better.”

As reported in a story last week about practice getting started, Philomath High as of Aug. 19 had 158 students participating.

Could the participation fees really be eliminated indefinitely?

“That’s what we hope,” Matta said. “In the long run, if that funding source is stable, then we could use that instead of going back to participation fees. If the economy takes a turn and the tax intake isn’t what it needs to be and school funding drops, you could see those coming back.”

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