One sports funding solution for pay-to-play youth sports problem

By Bill Kerig, The RallyMe Foundation Managing Director

There was a great story in the NY Times about not only the “expensive pay-for-play model that has swept over youth sports in America during the past decade”, but an example of someone doing something about it.

In addition to a graphic that shows the disturbing relationship between family income and youth participation in sports, the story tells the tale of how a community public/private effort spawned a $17 million baseball training academy for at-risk youth in one of Washington’s poorest and most troubled neighborhoods. The academy is not only providing baseball instruction, but tutoring in school subjects, as well as cooking and nutrition.

“We’re here to save lives,” said Chris Reed, the academy’s program manager, who grew up nearby in southeast Washington. “We’re not trying to buildchampionship baseball teams.”

And it’s working. Kids are staying in school, and doing better. And it’s not just the kids who are winning; the whole community is benefitting.

“I’ll come up here on a Friday night and be pleasantly surprised to see a bunch of dads and moms playing catch with their sons and daughters,” said the president of the local Little League. “That never happened before.”And in an interesting twist, the high-priced travel teams from the suburbs are now clamoring to come and play the academy teams. This is very cool stuff. A bunch of people recognized the very real problems of not having youth engaged in positive activities, and they found a way to solve it with sports.

The bad news is that this program is so rare that it is worth three full-pages in the NY Times Sunday edition. Which is to say, this is not indicative of a widespread movement to fix a systemic problem. It’s also not a sustainable or scalable model. This is a very high-priced charitable effort that relies on the underwriting of a multi-million-dollar business (a major league baseball team), as well as a major city’s government to get behind it.

I”m thrilled that this is happening, but it isn’t going to happen a hundred times. And if budgets ever get tight for the entities that are making it possible, this excellent program may be the first to go. What we need are more sustainable solutions to the pay-for-play model that is excluding the kids who can most benefit from playing sports. Anyone know of any other examples of people coming together to keep kids in sports?