Experts review local funding for school sports

For many sports programs, the cost of quality equipment and coaches adds up. Under budget cuts, schools face having to reduce programs or implement pay-to-play fees, among many other repercussions. Ultimately, this raises the question of how, or even if, differences in funding can affect athletic programs or the athletes themselves.

At Stevenson, athletes have access to new equipment and constantly renovated facilities. However, athletic director Trish Betthauser does not think this gives Stevenson athletes an advantage over others in areas such as performance and success.

“Resources are important, but there are so many other factors that contribute to [Stevenson’s] success like work ethic and teamwork,” Betthauser said.

In competitions between Stevenson and other schools, funding gaps have never been an apparent issue.  According to Betthauser, the athletic department’s budget at Stevenson is comparable to others in the Illinois High School Association in the North Suburban Conference.

While equipment manager Barri Solomon agrees that differences in expenditures do not affect athletes’ performance, she adds that equipment not kept in proper condition, common in low-funded sports, can have a negative impact.  This may prevent athletes from performing to their best ability when the risk of injury from poorly kept equipment is as at stake.

“If you don’t have access to a quality coach or quality equipment, then your team might not be as developed,” said Tom Farrey, Executive Director of the Sports and Society Program. “Money matters, and it takes resources to move up.”

In the eyes of Solomon, funding can always help sports teams by providing additional or better equipment and resources, but the biggest part of their success comes from the athletes’ talent.

Pay-to-play fees have also been implemented in sports programs to compensate for the expenses.  According to, as much as 40 percent of school districts are requiring students to pay a participation fee to join a sports team.  As a result, the total costs of transportation, uniforms or equipment prevent athletes from low-income families from joining.

Sports in Schools is an organization that aims to remove these financial barriers, such as participation fees, to make sports available for everyone. Will Niccolls, Sports in Schools CEO, believes that money should not be a barrier between students and sports.

“There’s disparity in the competitiveness of a league when you have well-funded, well-supported schools playing against high poverty schools,” Niccolls said.

According to Niccolls, when a school has to eliminate or reduce sports programs because of cuts to funding, the real loss is in the academic experience.  Sports programs can make young athletes further motivated to perform well in school, Niccolls said.

Farrey also believes that reducing or eliminating the sports program is a loss of an opportunity for students to develop life long social and emotional skills.

“Kids can learn and build resilience—the idea of getting knocked down, and picking yourself back up again,” Farrey said.

The question of whether differences in funding gaps lead to advantages is still a matter of debate.  However, at Stevenson, it’s not the most important issue at hand.

“Our number one priority is to provide a great experience for the athletes,” Betthauser said.  “We’re just fortunate to have a supportive school board too.”