High school sports fees to get a closer look in Hillsborough

TAMPA — Steve Casselli used to play lacrosse. His three children now play, two in South Tampa and one at the University of Florida.

But lately, with lacrosse becoming a varsity sport in school districts outside Hillsborough, there are fewer opportunities for his children's club teams.

So he's asking the Hillsborough schools to offer the sport as well, even if his family has to pay. "We've been doing it anyway, so we don't have a problem with pay-for-play," he said.

School Board members discussed the lacrosse issue, and the pros and cons of fee-based sports, at a workshop Tuesday. They agreed a committee should study the subject. And several members said they might approve of a pilot program.

"As long as we maintain ethnic and gender equity, that may not be a bad thing," chairwoman Candy Olson said.

If lacrosse gets offered at eight mostly suburban high schools where families want it, the decision will mark a departure from a 40-year policy of uniformity across the district.

With rare exceptions, all 27 schools offer the same 21 sports, said Lanness Robinson, district athletics director. And there is no consistency in those exceptions. A school might not have enough girls for a basketball team one year, but plenty the next.

Before introducing lacrosse, "There are obstacles to overcome and things to consider," he said.

Lacrosse attracts boys more than girls, and Hillsborough already is struggling to remain in compliance with Title IX, which bans gender discrimination in the schools.

Also, schools where students want lacrosse — a group that includes Wharton, Newsome and Plant — serve mostly white and relatively affluent communities. Olson said she'd like to see a subsidized program introduce the sport to inner-city schools.

Member Doretha Edgecomb, while not dismissing Olson's idea, worried about disparities between teams with more lacrosse experience — "a Gucci model," — and a lesser-skilled "Walmart model," she said.

Others, including Carol Kurdell, said it's an idea worth considering, as it might result in college scholarships.

"The only thing that is constant is change," said April Griffin, who likes the current system but will consider fee-based lacrosse as a pilot.

Lacrosse is the state's fastest-growing varsity sport, according to the Florida High School Athletic Association. In the past year, 40 boys' teams and 21 girls' teams have joined their ranks. "We're open-arms to schools that want to join us," said Cristina Broska, athletics director. "We'll help them however we can."

Club lacrosse already exists at some area high schools, with teams using school names and mascots.

But recently the FHSAA has enforced rules that restrict their activities on campus. For example, schools cannot provide transportation, support them through booster clubs or issue uniforms.

With so many restrictions, Casselli said, it only makes sense to become a high school sport.

No prices were discussed and no timetable given. Olson said the earliest a program can start would likely be 2013.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or sokol@tampabay.com.

School sports in Hillsborough

Cost: $7.6 million a year for all sports, including maintenance, coaches' payments and stadium maintenance. With $1.7 million in ticket revenues, the program runs a $5.9 million deficit.

Students who participate: 13,600. About one-third play more than one sport.

If students paid, each child's cost would be $289 per sport or $433 per year, not including insurance and physical exams.

Source: Hillsborough County School District Athletics Department

High school sports fees to get a closer look in Hillsborough 04/03/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 11:48pm]

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