AFTER THE WHISTLE

You've got to pay to play

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— My son just turned four years old in November and I'm already starting to prepare myself for the sticker shock that will greet me in the next few years.

No, I'm not worried about how much it's going to cost to send him to college. Hopefully, he can earn a scholarship or we will be eligible for a few student loans to help pay for that. Plus, the day I have to pack his bags for college is still a few years away.

No, the sticker shock I'm preparing for is the day he comes to me and utters the words "Hey dad, all my friends are playing hockey" or "Hey dad, all my friends are skiing and I would really like to

So what should it be dad, hockey, skiing, or college?

It seems unreal that parents would ever be put in a position to choose between sports and college, but in today's world it's not totally out of the question.

When I was a kid, sports were pretty much limited to weekends and normally took place within a bike-ride of my parent's suburban home. It normally cost my dad a few bucks at the start of the season, and he never had to leave for the weekend to watch me play.

But that was back when my dad could fill his car with gas for 10 bucks and a pack of baseball cards cost a quarter.

In today's world it seems more important for kids to be involved in some sort of sporting activity. This is where they make their friends, learn the importance of fair play and discover the meaning of sportsmanship.

I can't deny that sports play an important role in teaching and entertaining young people in our community.

Sports also provide a perfect place for both children and parents to socialize with families that have similar interests.

But what is the price parents pay to allow their children to play hockey, ski or be involved in competitive sports?

These days teams travel around the state, around the country and even around the world as part of competition. Parents are asked to fork out big bucks for equipment, coaching fees and travel.

I fear the day when my son comes to me and asks for a few dollars for an airline ticket to Europe to take part in a soccer camp, or a couple of bucks to ski in Canada.

Even a trip to Denver to play in a hockey tournament sends chills up and down my spine. Most competitive hockey teams travel every weekend to places all around the state. That means a hotel room, food and gas to make the trip. It also means a trip to the bank to make a little withdrawal several times a year.

I'm not sure how some children are able to play more than one sport but I see their names in stories and results so I know there are parents out their who can afford it .

The only thing that keeps me from waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat is the generosity of Steamboat and the fact that the local soccer, skiing and ice hockey programs in this town seem to go out of their way to help local families meet the demands of keeping kids in sports.

Just this week, families were treated to the kindness of the Steamboat Ski Area through scholarship day and the Over-the Hill Gang, which handed out it's annual scholarships as well.

The problem is that most parents want their kids to have a happy, well-rounded childhood. To accomplish this you have to let your child experience things like skiing, skating and sports. They also have to let children explore avenues where they will make friends and avoid things like drugs and alcohol. Most sports programs offer a positive atmosphere and are cheaper, in the long run, than the alternative of having your child take a journey down the wrong side of the road.

I guess as a parent I'm just going to have to accept the fact that having kids is an expensive proposition and that sports, much like college, is just one of those costs that most families are forced to deal with in life.

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