There’s a difference between attending and participating.
“If you participate in school, you come in much more engaged. Then it is somewhere where your heart is involved,” said John Miller, an assistant executive director with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
“If you just attend school, you might pick up some things here and there, but you’re not into it.”
Athletics and activities are at the forefront of that, with studies showing that students who play for their school’s sports teams have better grades, graduation rates, attendance and are more likely to go to college.
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Administrators say that families and athletes have become more concerned with injury risks, drill-sergeant coaches and participation fees. There’s also family obligations and more for kids to do — think Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and video games.
“I can say this about myself: I probably wouldn’t have graduated without athletics,” said Lakes High School football coach Dave Miller.
“We have a lot of kids who, if they aren’t doing football or basketball or wrestling, then they aren’t coming to school.”
The WIAA recently released 2014-15 participation data that showed statewide participation rose to more than 160,000, an increase of almost 800 students from 2013-14. Washington ranks 17th out of the 51 state associations in total participants.
Most of that increase was in boys sports. The gain was 187 for overall girl participation.
“I’m starting to see more and more of — not really with the guys program, but certainly in the last few years with the girls — a lot of girls not playing because they are worried about injuries,” said Gig Harbor boys soccer coach and assistant girls coach Todd Northstrom.
Then there’s the cost.
The Clover Park School District, in which Lakes resides, isn’t a pay-to-play school district.
But 40 percent of school districts nationwide charge fees to participate, according to Up2Us Sports. It also found that $3.5 billion was cut from schools’ sports budgets between 2009-2011 and that 27 percent of U.S. public high schools won’t have any sports by the year 2020 if the trend continues.
To list a couple local examples: the Puyallup School District charges $75 in a general athletic fee, Peninsula charges $100 in a sports participation fee and a $50 ASB fee, South Kitsap charges a $75 sports participation fee and $45 ASB fee, and White River charges $40 for an ASB fee, $100 for football participation and $85 for all other sports.
And that’s not including the costs of insurance, shoes and equipment, which Foss athletic director Marc Powers said that affects sports such as fastpitch and baseball more than others.
“Last year, I couldn’t believe it when I saw Wilson, which has had some pretty good fastpitch teams, but they didn’t have a JV,” Powers said. “I was like, ‘Wow, really?’”
As select and club sports rise, sports costs for families continue to surge. According to a study by Travis Dorsch, an assistant professor at Utah State University, families spend up to 10.5 percent of their gross income on sports.
“Me and my brother play AAU (basketball), so it’s harder on me and my parents with that because sometimes it’s like, ‘Well, maybe you can’t go to that tournament,’” Lincoln girls basketball player Tamia Braggs said. “They will sit at home and they won’t have the food to eat and stuff like that. It’s harder for them so they can make our dreams happen.
“Everything I do will be for my parents because they, financially, put everything down for what I’m doing.”
Bishop Ferijang, a Foss football and basketball player, said his football coach has helped out with some of the costs to play.
“For me, financially, things aren’t all that good,” Ferijang said. “So I kind of talked to him and he kind of understands, so he was able to get me and some other players cleats and stuff like that.”
Wilson’s Jasmine Parker-Borrero, who won the 135-pound state girls wrestling title as a freshman last year and plans to do soccer, wrestling and track and field this year, said she often gets sponsors to help pay for her sports, and said her church has helped as well.
“But it is a lot of money, especially when you travel,” Parker-Borrero said. “For judo, you have to travel a lot, soccer we travel and for wrestling they are trying to get me to start traveling places next year. I’m looking at going to Japan and Greece and France for judo. It’s a lot of money.”
Coaching style has also correlated with athletic participation, said Wendy Malich, the athletic director of the Franklin Pierce School District. Her district has seen participation rise — to 691 from 527 athletes at Franklin Pierce since 2011-12 and 467 to 495 at Washington — but they are drilling their coaches about changing the way they interact with kids.
Malich, who is also a member of the WIAA executive board, said they instruct their coaches to give instant feedback. No filming practice and sitting in a classroom to watch it. That’s boring. She asks her coaches to use a flip camera or phone to film kids doing drills, then immediately show it to them.
“As we change our teaching styles, we need to change our coaching styles to reach the kids,” Malich said. “You cannot have only five kids participating on the court and have the other kids watch. They get bored with that. You have to cater your drills and activities to include everybody. You just have to.
“Kids will quit nowadays. If they aren’t having fun or feel like they are participating, they will quit. Back in my day, you didn’t quit. You weren’t quitters back then. But they will quit now if they don’t like it. We have to reach the third-stringers and the fourth-stringers and the second-stringers and the first-stringers.”
Cascade Christian football coach Randy Davis said injury risks have kept parents from letting their kids try out for the football team — something the media has overblown, he says, especially with concussion risks.
“So I get moms who aren’t going to let their kid play football or whatever,” Davis said. “There’s way more concussions riding bicycles than there ever was playing football, but yet you never hear a mom say they are going to ban their kid from riding a bike.”
It’s hard to imagine a life without high school sports programs.
Coaches say funding athletics might as well be funding education, and players talk as much about life lessons learned as much as Xs and Os.
“If I was just dealing with school, I didn’t have somewhere to not thing about things and forget about things and do what I love to be passionate about, I think I would be crazy by now,” Stadium volleyball player Julia Battishill said.
“I just feel really lucky to be able to do this and to have the people that I’ve met through this and to develop the mindset that I’ve been able to through sports — and that’s hard work and being able to know yourself and serve a role. I think it’s really hard sometimes, but I think we’re lucky.”