Parents pay thousands for their kids to play sports. Are costs worth it?

Parents are spending hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars for their kids to play sports. Channel 2 Sports Director Zach Klein looked into why youth sports have gotten so expensive.

A Gwinnett County mother said she was shocked by how much it would cost for her son to play football at Peachtree Ridge High School.

“And that it was $800, you know, for the fee, the player commitment fee for them to play,” said Catherine Merriman.

She called the school’s athletic director.

“Once he actually started talking, he’s like 'It’s actually not required. But it’s more suggested because we use some of that money to improve the locker rooms,'” said Merriman.

Georgia law allows school districts to collect fees. But it is up to each district to decide whether to charge a fee and how much.

Gwinnett County Public Schools doesn’t have a policy requiring students to pay. But it allows booster clubs to collect dues.

Merriman said the booster club didn’t say the fees were optional.

“I believe it was very deceitful,” said Merriman.

She said most parents do not know they don’t have to pay the fees.

“You’re keeping some kids from being able to go out and play,” said Merriman.


Channel 2 checked with nine metro school districts on their fee policies. Some like DeKalb County charge no fees. Others charge fees ranging from $300 per sport in Fulton County to $300 for football and $350 for baseball in Henry County.

Some parents think schools are trying to keep up with travel teams. One father emailed Channel 2: “Youth sports has become a money grab from every angle.”

“There’s been a real explosion of travel sports, both on the boys and girls side in the last decade,” said Dean Keener, Senior Vice President Business Development Lakepoint Sports.

Lakepoint Sports in Bartow County has eight baseball fields and three soccer-lacrosse fields. The indoor-outdoor youth sports facility hosts travel teams and brings in big business.

“We expect 10 percent growth in 2019, and because of that, the economic impact was estimated at over $95 million in 2018," Keener said.

All four of Paul Nickel’s kids play travel sports.

“For each kid it could range anywhere from $4,000 to $6,000. Four of them, do the math right. It starts getting expensive, $16,000 to $20,000, $24,000 a year,” said Nickel.

Nickel sent Channel 2 a picture of his oldest son Jack meeting with Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart. Jack has received offers to play at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

Nickel said scholarships are nice, but that’s not the goal.

“I want to have four good citizens, that’s what I’m really trying to accomplish,” said Nickel.

He and others are concerned that travel teams push kids to focus on one sport at an early age.

“I definitely recommend kids playing more than one sport,” professional golfer Rickie Fowler told Klein.

“I feel like it helps. It’ll help down the road with whichever sport you do choose to play,” said Fowler.

Nickel warned playing one sport year-round can cause serious wear and tear on a kid’s body.

“All you’re doing is playing baseball and your arm goes out. You have Tommy John (surgery) at 15 years old. We know people that’s happened to them as well,” said Nickel.

Gwinnett County Public Schools told Channel 2 what the athletic director told Merriman aligns with its policy. Channel 2 reached out to the football team’s booster club but hasn’t heard back. Merriman’s son decided not to play football.

Parents also are hiring private coaches for their kids. Parents told us they cost $30 to $40 for a half hour. They said there are also the additional costs of traveling to games and meals on the road.