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If you want to be on the Arlington High School basketball team, you have to be able to shoot the ball — and pay $480 for the season. If you want to cheer for the Spy Ponders football squad, you’d better have upper body strength to lift someone over your head — and pay $408.
This year Arlington started the school year with a $4 million budget gap. To plug that they increased class size, laid off staff and raised the sports fees significantly. Parents recently got the athletic bills.
"I can’t really afford it," says Anne Mazolla, "but they take Master Card."
Mazolla has two high school boys and pays $1,700 for them to participate in three sports.
"We’ll do it because I don’t want my kids not to play sports. I can’t afford that more," Mazolla says. "Sports is so important to many kids, to my kids especially, for many reasons: it keeps them busy after school, it gives them a sense of teamwork. They learn so much playing sports and it’s huge in the college application process."
Coaches say the fee hike, combined with the drop in a family fee cap, is driving athletes away.
But Mazolla and others say the school committee has unfairly targeted sports to fix the problem, while fees for drama and music are much smaller.
Coaches say the fee hike, combined with the drop in a family fee cap, is driving athletes away. Cheerleading coach Kelly Pugliese says she has a big squad for football, but doesn’t expect the same for basketball in the winter.
"Well, I’m hoping I’ll have maybe eight out of 25 that usually I have. You know they raise this fee to expect more money and now they are not going to get the kids to participate, so in my eyes they're losing," Pugliese says.
One girl who might not be back is Junior Carissa Martorana.
"I’m just really upset because like, I’ve been cheering for like, ever, and I can’t even do it. Honestly, like you keep your skills and stuff and if you don’t do stuff for a long amount of time you like lose them and stuff, and you have to start from square one again," Martorana says.
And her mother, Nina Martorana, says with another daughter entering high school in the fall who wants to be on the cheerleading squad too, she wants to know where the fees are going.
"They don’t get a uniform. We have to pay for sneakers and jackets. So, we don’t know what that money is going to," Martorana says.
Arlington School Committee Chairman Joe Curro says the money is going to pay for the majority of the athletic program and some sports subsidize others. Curro says the committee held meetings and sought feedback from parents, but he thinks many didn’t tune in until they got the bill this fall.
"It’s very understandable that this is a big shock. Our fees are just about the highest around at this point. And we understand that really, over the long term, that’s just not sustainable," Curro says.
"I think there certainly is a danger in creating an unfair advantage," says Ted Dever, director of athletics at Arlington High School. He says the higher fees will make athletics elitist.
"I don’t see that right now in the fall season. But I do anticipate it — you know, the winter is hockey and we charge $720 for that, gymnastics is $720. I think you will see a drop off in participation," Dever says.
And with the economy, Dever says, teens can’t get jobs, so they have few other options.
"Many of us know we don’t want teenagers being idle because that’s when drugs and alcohol sometimes get involved," he says.
But Curro says regardless of how angry parents are at the school committee meeting Tuesday night, there’s not much the committee can do, now that the school year is underway.
"Arlington really prides itself on its sports offerings. I don’t think we want to see the ghosts of communities like Hull or Mansfield — that did away with their extracurricular programs — come to haunt us here in our town," Curro says.
Many other cities and towns, including Quincy and Peabody, have athletic fees, but they are much lower than Arlington's and cap the amount one family has to pay.
This program aired on November 9, 2010.
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