ATHENA — No one’s calling it a Christmas present, but last week’s decision by Athena-Weston School District officials to “fill the gym” is intended to be a gift to the community.
On Tuesday, school board members seconded Superintendent Laure Quaresma’s request to open the gates of home games to all at no cost, eliminating the $5 fee for adults and $3 for children.
Students with Associated Student Body cards and senior citizens have always enjoyed free admission at Weston-McEwen High School sporting events, Quaresma said, but everyone else shelled out money to watch the games — even parents coming to root for their child.
The money collected paid for the referees officiating games, about $12,000 a year, she said.
For larger families, an evening at a high school game might add up to $20 or more. In some cases, that’s made coming to root for the home team unaffordable, officials agreed.
Charging folks to support their school teams goes against the grain for board Chairman Preston Winn.
“I’m strongly opposed to gate fees,” he said at last week’s meeting, adding that his position has long been that schools and their functions are already funded by tax dollars.
In a later interview, Winn said he taught school in Oregon for 40 years, and his goal then and now is to make education opportunities available to all people, “including those who have money and those who don’t.”
Admission fees, including to school plays and concerts, can be a barrier for some families, Winn said.
“Not charging gives everybody an opportunity to support students. It also supports our education system.”
Shawn White said that in his three-plus years as athletic director for the district, he has been impressed with the robust community support Weston-McEwen teams enjoy.
It’s not the same story in many rural school districts, however, White said.
“Other athletic directors comment on how well folks turn out to cheer for our games.”
Although admission costs don’t seem to ding home game attendance in general, “It’s always been a problem for big families,” he said.
“I know it can be hard. And kids want to go to the concession stand and all of that.”
The “Fill the Gym” plan is a great idea, White said.
“I hope it encourages those folks with families to come.”
Fans will still have to pay at district, regional and state play-offs, officials said, noting they don’t have regulatory control over those.
With the elimination of admission costs, local officiating fees will have to come out of the general budget dollars, Winn said
“And those are not unlimited, and that means something else may not be funded. In as large a budget as we have, we’re talking about a $12,000 issue here. I think that is small enough to justify equal access … if we don’t charge, it gives all the participants equal opportunity to have support from their parents but also other fans.”