High school sports in Utah can cost thousands of dollars. Here’s how much some parents are paying

Fees to play high school sports have increased in recent years.

Barbara Vogel’s granddaughter is an up-and-coming softball player at Copper Hills High School. She made the varsity team as a freshman, plays club ball and might have enough talent to earn a college scholarship.

But just before the 2023-24 season, Vogel’s granddaughter’s first in high school, the family was somewhat blindsided by how much it costs for her to play.

Vogel’s family paid more than $1,500 for her granddaughter to play softball at Copper Hills. Included in that cost is the $400 participation fee required by Jordan School District and a required fee from the school itself of $1,150. An end-of-year banquet that costs $20 was optional.

“It was just sticker shock,” Vogel said.

Fees to play sports at Utah high schools have increased over the last few years. Each school district in the state sets its own fees for sports, which are considered extracurricular activities. The fees are maximum costs, meaning it’s possible parents aren’t paying the full amounts.

In Salt Lake School District, for example, maximum fees for most sports increased by more than $300 between the 2021-22 and 2023-24 school years. For some sports — like football and boys’ lacrosse — the increase was closer to $400.

Most have district-wide fees for each sport, regardless of the school a player attends. In Jordan School District, however, each school has its own fees on top of what the district charges.

“It was just shocking to me because, good grief, you have to pay to play?” Vogel said. “It kind of turns athletics into an elitist activity because I’m sure there are an awful lot of kids that would play but just can’t afford it. And that’s sad.”

The fees districts charge for sports are capped not only by sport, but also by student. Those figures differ depending on the district and sport.

The state in 2018 released an audit saying schools are charging students exorbitant and even illegal fees for sports. Six years later, some families are still having issues.

Making sacrifices

The scene inside UCCU Center at Utah Valley University last month was vibrant. It was the site of the first-ever boys’ volleyball state championships after the Utah High School Activities Association sanctioned the sport.

Amid all the excitement of multiple games going on simultaneously, and in between cheers for her son, Kai, Ashleigh Sorenson lamented how difficult paying fees for sports can be, particularly for families who may not have as much disposable income.

“It’s hard to maintain the balance and to also have money [or time] for family vacations,” Sorenson said. “It’s a cost and a time commitment for these sports. So I think that’s a struggle, too. But it is a sacrifice for families for sure.”

Some families are feeling the squeeze of fees so much that they’ve had to make financial sacrifices elsewhere. Vogel’s family, for instance, ate out less, changed summer vacation plans, didn’t buy passes for Lagoon and postponed home projects.

“You have to cut something,” said Vogel, who added she and her son didn’t pay a dime for sports when they grew up.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brighton hosts East, high school football in Cottonwood Heights on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023.

Sorenson’s son Kai plays volleyball and basketball at Skyline, which is in Granite School District. She also has a daughter who swims.

The maximum fee for volleyball is $550 in Granite. It’s $900 for basketball and $300 for swimming.

Kai’s volleyball is the most expensive for his family. He plays on a club volleyball team that costs $4,800 per year, Sorenson said, and that doesn’t include travel expenses such as meals.

While club sports programs are not under the purview of high schools, many high level athletes who have aspirations to play in college play for their schools and clubs in the same year for maximum exposure.

Maximum charge, minimal effect (for some)

Many parents aren’t paying the maximum allowable fees for their children to play sports. In most cases, their fees are reduced by various fundraising efforts.

Gavin Noyes, whose son Ilario is a sophomore on the Highland High tennis team, said he and his wife pay “not even close” to the $1,938 maximum the Salt Lake City School District outlined for 2023-24. Instead, he said, it’s around $250.

Jeff Haddock’s daughter Josie is a freshman who played on the girls’ lacrosse, soccer and basketball teams at Hillcrest High, which is in Canyons School District. He said he pays about $350 for lacrosse, $550 for soccer and $800 for basketball.

The maximum fees for those sports at Canyons are: $2,570 each for lacrosse and basketball, and $2,370 for soccer.

Haddock said he didn’t have to pay much of the soccer fee due to fundraising, but those efforts were less successful during basketball season. He also has an older daughter who played soccer and basketball at Hillcrest about five years ago, and said those sports “didn’t cost nearly as much” back then.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brighton hosts Corner Canyon, high school basketball in Cottonwood Heights on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023.

Gavin Gustafson has two daughters who play sports. Samantha, a senior, plays lacrosse at Skyline, which is in Granite School District. Gianna plays lacrosse and soccer at Judge Memorial, a private Catholic school.

Gustafson said it cost $323 for lacrosse in 2022 at Skyline. This school year, though, the fee ballooned to $540, a figure he said surprised him. The maximum Granite charges for lacrosse is $800.

Meanwhile, the cost for Gianna to play two sports at Judge Memorial was “notably less” than it cost Samantha to play just one sport at a public school, Gustafson said.

The costs are manageable for Gustafson — for now.

“We’re fortunate enough so that the amount is not yet cost prohibitive,” Gustafson said. “But we’re not that fortunate.”

Michelle Martineau’s son is a junior on Brighton High’s junior varsity baseball team. She said the family pays about $1,500 a year. In Canyons, where Brighton is, the maximum charge for baseball is $2,820 in 2023-24. It will increase by $40 next school year.

Martineau is deeply frustrated by the types of fundraising athletes and parents are asked to do in order to reduce the fees. She said athletes are asked to solicit local businesses for banner ads that will be hung at the baseball field. Those banners can cut $500 off fees.

But Martineau opted for her son not to solicit. Instead, she had to pay $600 for a generic banner.

Martineau also said she had to buy items for a basket that would be used at a silent auction. And, she had to find people who would play in a pickleball tournament and pay a $100 entrance fee.

Martineau said her family is in a position where they can pay the fees, but still said “it’s not ideal” because “it’s a lot of money.”

Martineau said that at a different point in her life, she would not have been able to pay the fees.

“If I was in the position that I was five years ago, and I lived on my own income, there’s no way,” Martineau said. “Even as much as I know my kid loves baseball and he would be desperate to play, there’s no way I could come up with the money to do it and still be able to pay my mortgage and my bills.”

Are the fees worth it?

Griffin Vagana watched as his son Jordyn’s stellar senior season at Hunter High culminated at the 5A boys’ volleyball state championship. The senior outside hitter finished his high school career as one of the best in the country in service aces.

That skill took years to acquire — and a lot of money.

Vagana, as he sat in the loud UCCU Center, gave a hearty laugh when he said “it sucks” to pay nearly $20,000 a year for his son Jordyn to play volleyball at the highest prep level. His son plays at Hunter High, which is in Granite School District.

The district has a maximum volleyball fee of $550, but Vagana said he only paid about $250. Jordyn also plays baseball, which carries a maximum fee of $1,000. Again, Vagana only paid between $160 and $200 for baseball, he said.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ogden High School defeated Morgan High School, 1-0, to win the 3A State Soccer Championship game Oct. 23, 2021 at Rio Tinto Stadium.

What costs a lot of money is the volleyball club his son plays for. He said the club costs $4,800, each tournament costs an additional $350, and there are travel costs involved.

But when asked if paying that much money for sports is worth it, Vagana’s answer was unequivocally yes.

“Being able to keep him busy, especially being a Pacific Islander, keeping him out of the gangs and keeping him active, it’s a small price to pay to keep him out of trouble,” said Vagana, who lives in West Valley.

Sorenson’s view is similar for her athletic children.

“I think for our kids, they found things they were passionate about,” Sorenson said. “When you see your kids loving something and learning life lessons through athletics, that’s when you hope that it is worth it, and you feel like it is.”

And Vogel, whose family is just learning about the fees for her granddaughter’s softball, doesn’t see a world where fees would preclude her from following her passion.

“Considering her talent, it’s something that my son would never refuse to pay,” Vogel said.

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