Local parents, students will pay to play school sports


Reporter - Kendall Downing

MARION, Ill. - Shelling out cash to suit up. Next year parents in a local school district will pay an athletic fee for their kids to play sports.

It's one small part of a budget reduction plan that aims to save the Marion, Illinois school district more than $1.4 million.

The system is cutting spending in anticipation of reduced funding from the state of Illinois.

Those cuts include moving the Marion High School Extension Center Program to the newly built Adams School to save about $100,000.

Some secretaries, staff members and maintenance workers will either lose their jobs or have hours cut.

Athletic fees for students and parents will go way up. Both Junior High and Varsity athletes will have to pay $100 per sport.

The glory of the gridiron now comes with a cost.

Marion Unit Two Superintendent Keith Oates said pay to play was unavoidable.

"It's another way to raise some revenue," said Oates.

For athletic director Mike Chornak, charging a flat fee marks new territory with unknown effects.

"I think we all saw it coming," he said, "No, we don't like them. But if we're going to keep our sports that we have here, it's something that we're going to have to do."

The district doesn't have a plan in place yet for handling situations where students can't pay that fee.

Superintendent Oates said pay to play helped save some programs that were on track to be eliminated.

The district has 22 varsity sports and 12 at the junior high. The board's finance committee proposed pay to play as a way to keep them all around.

Varsity bass fishing, bowling, and tennis would've been eliminated without it.

"Well, you could see it coming down the pipe with the state that Illinois is in right now," said Danny Gwaltney.

Gwaltney's daughter Alyson is a sophomore who plays basketball. He says he'll shell out the cash but hopes pay to play isn't permanent.

"Hopefully it won't be like that forever," he said.

For Superintendent Oates the athletic fee is part of a bigger problem, figuring out how to keep the district operating amid declining state funding.

"There's a lot of uncertainty in Illinois right now," he said.

We reached out to a number of other school districts in the Local 6 area.

Administrators with West Frankfort, Illinois schools told us pay to play had been discussed, but there are no plans to put it in place.

Officials at McCracken County Schools tell us they don't have a designated sport fee. We got the same response from the Weakley County, Tennessee school district.