Pay to play debated |

Pay to play debated

School district grapples with sports teams' funding

Melinda Mawdsley

Steamboat Springs High School hockey players Matthew Lettunich, from left, Jim Terry, Timmy Ascher and Greg Engalls head into Howelsen Ice Arena on Saturday. Because it's a Tier 2 sport, each player's family must spend about $1,000 a season for the athlete to participate.

— Steamboat Springs High School offers its students more extracurricular activities than any other Colorado public high school of similar size, but whether the district should fully fund each of those activities remains a hot-button issue for some parents and school officials.

The Steamboat Springs High School Nuts and Bolts Committee has spent the past several years exploring what it would cost for the district to assume financial responsibility for all Tier 1 and Tier 2 sports and activities.

That price tag is an estimated $406,000 a year, an increase of $266,000 from the school system’s current athletics and activities budget, officials said.

“We know that’s not reasonable,” said high school Principal Mike Knezevich, who also is a member of the school’s Nuts and Bolts Committee.

The high school operates under a two-tier activities structure. Tier 1 activities are those in which the sponsor/coach salary and program costs are entirely or mostly covered by high school or district funds. Tier 2 activities are those in which neither the sponsor/coach salary nor the program costs are covered by high school or district funds.

Add to the mix a cross category for activities in which the sponsor or coach salary is paid by the high school or district, but the program costs are not.

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Students who participate in Tier 1 activities such as football, basketball and speech pay a $100 participation fee per activity with a $200 maximum. And no family is forced to pay more than $200 a year, regardless of how many children they have involved in Tier 1 activities.

Students in Tier 2 activities such as hockey, lacrosse and cheerleading are subject to the fees and requirements associated with the individual sport. Those fees vary greatly among activities, and many Tier 2 sports receive financial assistance from the Steamboat Springs Booster Club.

All teams, regardless of tier, compete for Steamboat Springs High School and use the high school’s facilities as well as activities director Richard Lee and activities secretary Kate Parke for planning, scheduling, coordination and supervision.

“If we start funding (all activities) and we run into tough financial times, how do we fund this?” Superintendent Donna Howell said. “It’s a very complicated issue. It has to be thought through carefully.”

No easy answer

Knezevich and Nuts and Bolts Committee member Denise Pearson joined the School Board in a lengthy discussion last week about the present and future status of Tier 1 and Tier 2 activities.

The Nuts and Bolts Com-mittee, which consists of staff, students, parents and an administrator, received a recommendation from its Community Advisory Team in 2004 asking the district to explore the idea of funding Tier 2 athletics.

The creation of Tier 2 athletic teams dates back to 1974, when a group of parents of cross-country runners created a club team. The School Board allowed the sport as long as it did not financially impact the high school or district. The boys soccer team was started in the same manner – with club status – in the mid-1980s. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the district began labeling such sports as Tier 2.

Many additional sports and activities have been added through the same process during the past 25 years, and each received the support of the district under the condition that it would be self-sufficient.

But the increased pressure to fundraise now has some Tier 2 sports looking to the district for help.

One proposal discussed last week was having the district absorb all Tier 2 coaching salaries and transportation costs, which would cost about $40,000 a year. Doing so would make all sports accountable to high school administration and would mean all athletes and coaches would use district buses or vehicles for transportation, Knezevich said.

Currently, the district charges $1 a mile for Tier 2 sports to use district school buses. Otherwise, parents or guardians drive students to events.

Board members expressed concern with district students being driven in private vehicles.

“As a Tier 2 sport, when you have individuals driving, theoretically, the district’s athletes, we open ourselves up liability-wise,” board member Pat Gleason said.

There is some question as to whether the district has enough buses to run all its usual school routes plus take several out-of-town activities-related trips on the same day, transportation director Ed Dingledine said.

Gleason, who has been a Tier 2 Nordic ski coach for the high school, also has a problem with Tier 2 activities paying for the services of the athletics director and secretary.

“They are theoretically our athletes competing for our school,” Gleason said. “Why are they being charged an extra fee for the A.D. and secretary? My thought would be the district pick up those salaries. Those things are very simple if the board would so choose.”

But it may not be that simple.

“I would like to bring to your attention that when we presented the final budget in October, we were looking at deficit spending,” Howell said. “We are running a pretty tight budget right now. : At this point, you don’t have the extra dollars to do it.”

Case study

The high school’s hockey team, which began competing five years ago, is one of the district’s newest sports. At a cost of approximately $1,000 per player per year, it also is one of the most expensive sports in Steamboat.

Because it’s a Tier 2 sport, those costs generally are picked up by the athletes’ parents and other supporters.

“Anything the school can absorb would help us,” coach Jeff Ruff said.

If a proposal for the district to pick up the tab on the salaries of Tier 2 coaches is approved, the team’s 25 hockey players would save about $240 per player per year. Ruff and assistant Dave Strang make a combined $6,000 a year.

The Nuts and Bolts Com-mittee’s plan for the district to absorb Tier 2 transportation costs also would save money for the team, which won the King of the Mountain tournament in Vail last weekend.

“To give you an example, we are taking a bus to Denver when we play Kent Denver on Dec. 22,” Ruff said. “We play Kent at 2 p.m. on that Friday before Christmas break. We figure parents won’t stay (overnight in Denver). We will get out of the rink by 6, and we’ll eat and be back home by 10:30 or so, so we decided to take a school bus.”

The trip will be about 330 miles. The district charges $1 a mile, so the $330 charge for the school bus is divided among the players.

“Right now we will use money from our admission to pay that so the kids won’t have to,” Ruff said.

If the district paid transportation fees, the hockey team could use admission money to help offset other expenses such as ice time -which is $145 an hour – and the new $150 event fee that Howelsen Ice Arena is charging the team for each of its home games.

Between practice and scheduled home games, the hockey team will pay an estimated $11,000 just to use the ice this season. That cost doesn’t include possible postseason hockey games, extra practice time or referees.

School Board member Jeff Troeger suggested an increase in participation fees. It wasn’t his final decision but something he thought was worth discussing.

“It seems to me, if you ask everyone who plays to pay, you find ways to fund things,” he said. Troeger said he knows how expensive hockey is because he had a son who played.

Other questions

Funding the high school’s Tier 2 teams isn’t the only concern.

How to categorize high school activities also is an issue.

The School Board wants the district to develop criteria for determining which activities should be Tier 1 and Tier 2. The board also wants a plan for how and when an activity would move from Tier 1 or Tier 2 and vice versa.

Knezevich said he uses a rubric to help determine whether a proposed sport should be added. It asks such questions as participation numbers, popularity among the student body, strain on facilities and costs and expenses.

How an activity stacks up in the rubric helps determine whether the district adds it. Talk of creating a similar type of rubric to define Tier 1 and Tier 2 sports has been suggested.

Board member Denise Connelly said she wants to know how other districts handle their activities and budgets.

Steamboat offers more activities than any other Class 4A school in Colorado. Class 4A is the classification Steamboat typically competes in. It is the second largest classification in Colorado, and Steamboat is one of the smallest Class 4A schools in the state. On the same note, Steamboat offers more programs than most Class 5A schools. Class 5A is the largest classification in Colorado and includes most Denver-area schools.

One thing on which all board members agreed was the value in having extracurricular activities for students in all areas – from athletics to speech to the arts. Studies show students involved in at least one extracurricular activity are more likely to be successful in school.

Look for the Tier 1/Tier 2 issue to appear on future School Board agendas.

– To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail

Tier One and Two sports/activities

Tier 1 sports/activities



Cross country (boys and girls)

Soccer (boys and girls)

Basketball (boys and girls)


Track (boys and girls)





Tier 2 sports/activities

Tennis (boys and girls)




Alpine and Nordic skiing (boys and girls)

Lacrosse (boys and girls)