August 24, 1995 in Washington Voices

Trust Fund Raises Specter Of Pay-To-Play

By Correspondent

What is wrong with the way high school sports is headed?

Enough to temper the excitement of the impending football season - when athletes are fresh and enthusiastic, fans and coaches optimistic and teams unblemished - with a hint of concern.

The trust fund begun for Central Valley’s football team, no matter how well intentioned or monitored, is the latest warning signal.

Prep sports have always been considered a fortress, teaching the best of ideals and fair play. They are threatening to mirror the troubled arena of collegiate athletics and the greed in professional sports.

The idea of George Van Houten, whose son Mike plays for the Bears, was to raise discretionary money that could go toward helping needy athletes or paying for additional coaches or equipment.

Although admirable in scope, it raises questions about how beholding a coach might become to the boosters who contribute to the fund and whose kids turn out for the team.

Conversely, if players pay to play, how can a coach justify not doing so?

Are high school teams to mirror colleges, where stories of booster excess, rules infractions and athlete misdeeds are as much a part of the sports pages as are the games?

Will teams which can amass and spend the most money buy wins and losses as professional owners seem to think? Is there to be free agency in a high school’s sports future?

For sports reasons, already athletes are bolting one school for another because they are disgruntled with a coach or by lack of playing time.

Despite ever increasing budgets, costs seem to outweigh the ability to fund high school athletics.

Coaches say no matter how reluctant they are to do so, finding other sources of revenue to do so is becoming essential.

Money then, not values and fun, is driving sport.

I’m optimistic, maybe naive, enough to think that athletics in high schools are valuable and vital for students and that the positives outweigh the negatives.

If so, hooray to those willing to raise or donate money for a football trust fund, for a worthy endeavor.

But after watching the movie Hoop Dreams, which graphically portrayed the business side of Chicago high school basketball, my cynical side causes me to fear for the direction that local prep athletics is going.

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