Last fall, the Mokena School District 159 Board of Education approved a move to pay-to-play for most athletics—including basketball, volleyball, cross country and other sports.
The moves were seen as a watershed moment for the district, which had been without sports for the fall semester of the 2011 school year and was without any music teachers just a few weeks before the current school year.
Nearly four months into the 2012–13 school year, pay-to-play sports and activities are underway and the district is running a nearly complete schedule B—the lone exception being boys volleyball, which was cut due to lack of interest.
“We are actually doing really well with the program,” said Mokena Junior High School Principal Mike Rolinitis. “We've filled up all of our teams for the most part, the only thing that didn't have enough players this year has been boys volleyball. We just didn't have enough kids sign up for it to be financially viable.”
The district saw little to no drop in student interest in all aspects of schedule B, although some offerings were affected, Rolinitis said.
“The biggest hit that we took … I know the numbers were down in fifth grade in the band program,” he said. “Now that they have to pay the fee and rent the instrument, it cut it down to people that were a little bit more serious. It just cut down on some kids that weren't that serious, unfortunately it might have cut out some kids who really liked it. In the long run, I'm very pleased with the turnout.”
He added that despite new mandates from the board on how teams use players in games during sporting events, the results have remained mostly positive, with teams finding their way to the win column more often than not and the students offered a full slate of extracurriculars.
“Having extracurriculars at the schools makes it so much more well-rounded,” he said. “It gives the kids more of an opportunity to be involved and stay connected, and they just do better academically when we have these going on.”
Rolinitis said that in the future, he and the board are hopeful that the pay-to-play fees for all sports and activities will decrease, but that he wasn't sure when—or by how much—they might drop. He also said that he was doubtful that the fees would ever go away entirely.
“I'm always going to recommend that we reduce fees as far down as possible,” he said. “I don't think we're ever going to see the days of not having a participation fee. … I know the board is wrestling with the idea of reducing [fees] and reducing them and staying in the black. I would be surprised if the board all of the sudden said, 'No, we're not going to have any fees.'
“I would think, though, that we can run a program like we are now for a period of time. I think their plan is to kick them back, knock them back slowly, until we've hit an equilibrium.”
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