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No change in Marblehead sports fees

Posted by Marcia Dick  August 27, 2010 10:08 AM

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Although most local public high schools have fees, some have resisted the trend. A recent poll found 13 local nonvocational public high schools still don’t make athletes pay to play.

Of the 34 schools with fees, five have raised them for the upcoming school year. Most voke/tech schools have no fees.

Marblehead fees have remained the same: $340 per student, with a $480 cap for the school year. In Haverhill, former New England Patriots defensive end Garin Veris, who made his living chasing down quarterbacks, is now chasing down student-athletes who haven’t paid their user fees.

As practices for fall sports in the working-class city began this week, Haverhill players still owed about $11,000 in fees from the 2009-10 school year. Veris was sending a list of students with outstanding balances to the coaching staff, making sure they don’t get a uniform or step out onto the field until the situation is addressed.

The deficit has forced Haverhill to change the way it collects fees, which are either $175 or $275 per sport, with caps of $600 per athlete and $850 per family for the three seasons.

“It bothers me a lot that I am put into this position to tell a kid you can’t play until you pay,’’ said Veris, who was appointed AD in August 2009. “Growing up in [Chillicothe] Ohio, you didn’t have to pay to play. If you wanted to play, you played.’’

The governing body for high school athletics in the state — the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association — has no official stand on whether a student who doesn’t pay a fee is still entitled to play a sport.

“Association schools have to implement our eligibility requirements when it comes to issues such as academic progress and discipline, but we take no position on that matter,’’ said MIAA spokesman Paul Wetzell. “It is our belief that if a student qualifies for free or reduced lunch, the fee should be waived.’’

Veris’s efforts to collect fees made news in July when he withheld the report card of a student who owed fees. The student’s mother complained to the School Committee and accused Veris of overzealous collection efforts. Veris later said he was doing what had been done in the past, but when he discovered there was no formal policy, he stopped.

“The policy before was to withhold a report card, but you can’t do that,’’ said Haverhill School Committee member Paul Magliocchetti.

Magliocchetti said the schools already are using every revenue source they can think of — gate receipts, fund-raising, advertising — to help reduce or eliminate fees. He is hopeful that the $2 million renovation of Haverhill Stadium will pay dividends down the road and that the city might generate more money from its skating rink.

He said the last thing the schools should be doing is depriving students of the chance to play sports, citing the programs’ effectiveness when it comes to dropout prevention.

“If you enforce the fees to the point where kids can’t play, you are depriving a child of something that may affect his academic performance,’’ he said. “Some kids just need the extra incentive to maintain a certain average.’’

Magliocchetti said he is setting up a program to make things easier for parents by allowing for credit-card payments and automatic monthly withdrawals from bank accounts.

Veris already has agreed to allow parents to pay the fees in two installments each season.

Magliocchetti and Veris agree that part of the problem may stem from students who are reluctant to apply for a waiver, fearing some sort of stigma.

“We want them to come out and participate,’’ said Veris. “With some kids, it might be a pride factor. Applying for a fee waiver is a private thing. No one has to know. If it stops even one kid from playing, it’s a problem.’’

Procedures to waive or reduce fees are in place in almost every school district, including Haverhill, where, according to Magliocchetti, about 40 percent of students at the high school qualify for a free or reduced lunch.

Veris said he will be more proactive, making sure payment or a payment plan is in place for each student. He is asking students and parents to come to him as soon as they know there is a problem so something can be worked out.

“Nobody wants these fees, but they’re a necessity if we want to be able to offer these programs,“ said Haverhill School Committee member Joseph Bevilacqua.

Most school districts require the fee to be paid before an athlete steps out onto the field. That’s the case at some schools with the highest fees, where athletics receive little or no money from the school budget.

“Our policy is that the athlete must pay before stepping on the field,’’ said Don Doucette, athletic director at Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School, where fees range from $242 to $864 and fully fund the cost of each sport.

Dan Thornton, athletic director at Pentucket Regional, which draws students from Groveland, Merrimac, and West Newbury, said his school committee’s policy is that payment or acceptable arrangements must be made before participation begins, and all payments must be made by midseason; Pentucket’s fees range from $200 to $400 per sport, and $850 for ice hockey.

“Basically, we do not hand out uniforms to players until payment is made or a payment plan has been approved,’’ said Thornton.

Veris said that the fees detract from what should be a positive experience for his student-athletes.

“High school sports are supposed to be fun,’’ he said. “Chasing these payments is not fun. Having to come up with the money takes away from the overall health and happiness these kids should be experiencing.’’

Rich Fahey can be reached at faheywrite@yahoo.com

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