Youth sports is an enterprise worthy of a bailout
By JIM LITKE (AP) – Oct 21, 2009
If the high school and youth sports programs in your town aren’t already having trouble paying their bills, they will soon.
And if that doesn’t sound like headline-worthy news in this battered economy, just wait. You’ll have your pick of headlines from the ripples it creates soon enough: fatter kids, more dropouts and less safe streets. You also won’t have to wonder why the college and pro teams you follow from the couch don’t seem quite as good as they used to be.
The public-private partnership that helped make youth sports part of the fabric of every neighborhood in America for decades is going broke.
“Sports are something everybody takes for granted, but already for some kids in some places, those programs are a lifeline,” said Paul Caccamo, executive director of Up2Us, a coalition of school and community-based sports programs from around the country.
“It’s already an endangered species in some inner cities, some rural areas and now, even middle-class suburban kids are getting hit with pay-to-play fees. We know as that cost goes up, participation goes down. … And while we don’t know for certain how many it’s affected in all those places already,” he added, “it’s got to be in the hundreds of thousands.”
Beginning Wednesday, Caccamo and an army of do-gooders will descend on Washington, D.C., bearing that message, some provocative research and high hopes of drawing attention to the problem and bending a few influential ears in Congress and even the White House.
During two days of conferences, co-hosted by Up2Us and the Laureus Sport For Good Foundation, the people struggling to keep those programs running want to make policy-makers and the public understand how close they are to the tipping point. It’s not about learning to make do with less money; in many neighborhoods, any less will mean having to do without.