Archive for Dealing with Financial Concerns

DEALING WITH FINANCIAL CONCERNS: Is the Selling of Naming Rights Okay?

This column has to do with the selling of naming rights to ballparks, athletic facilities, and so on.

Now, we all know that at the professional league, it’s become pretty standard fare for enterprising corporations to put up a lot of money to have their firm’s name branded on a  ballpark. Hence, we have, for example, in the NY-NJ-CT area, MetLife Stadium….or Citifield, places like that. Famous ballparks that have sold the “name” rights to their stadium.

It’s all about generating more cash, of course, and as a result, our athletic facilities have more commercialized.

In truth, think we’ve gotten to a point in our society where sports fans everywhere have pretty much accepted this as a way of life. That is, if an insurance company or a bank wants to put up millions of dollars to have their corporate name on a building, we’re okay with that. After all, this is professional sports, and pro sports are big business.

But let me ask you this…

Would you be okay if your local HS football stadium or your HS gymnasium or baseball diamond had its naming rights sold? Just like they do at the professional level?

This is not a case where a school district is simply dedicating a field or ballpark to honor the contributions of a beloved local coach or athlete. Instead,  this is where – and let me use a fictitious name here – where your local HS football field or basketball gym is officially re-named, say, Chico’s Bail Bonds Stadium.

Naturally, Chico’s Bail Bonds would have to pay a decent amount of money to do this. And in fact this selling of naming rights to HS facilities is becoming more and more common around the country.

Local schools say it’s an excellent way to generate revenue streams for the school district, that the monies can be used to help provide new equipment or other needs for the students. And besides, there’s already a lot of precedent for selling naming rights with local professional minor league or major league fields.

Of course, certainly when it comes to sponsoring youth league teams in our towns, like in Little League, we all know that local barber shops and deli’s or gas stations routinely put their company name on the kid’s caps and shirts to sponsor the team. Just like Chico’s Bail Bonds…from the movie, Bad News Bears.

So let me ask you this… there any downside to having your HS sell the stadium or gym or ballpark naming rights to a corporate entity….or is this actually a brilliant and smart idea?

I read recently where a public HS in Indiana sold the naming rights to its football field for $400,000 to a local bank. Other naming rights have been sold to a car dealership for the baseball field, the softball field to a law firm, and its concession stands to a tire and auto care shop.

My question to you….do you have a problem with this? Would you care if it happened in your school district? Or with money tight for sports these days, would you absolutely welcome this kind of economic development?

Now, remember, this has nothing to do with HS booster clubs, which are pretty much run outside the realm of the school board. Booster clubs, of course, are comprised of sport parents who raise money independently to help their kids who play HS sports….

But the naming rights to a school building or facility has to be approved by the school board. And if HS football fields have their naming rights sold, should we expect to see the HS auditorium, or science labs, or even the library or cafeteria carry a local sponsor’s name?

Callers this AM were mostly likely in favor of this trend, simply because school districts have so little money these days that any kind of financial stream is welcomed. We all knows that schools are constantly looking to cut back, not add services. And if an outside entity wants to pledge a lot of money to have their signage on a HS field, well, why not?

Of course the school board has to have the final say in all, so that the sponsors are all legitimate and above reproach. As one caller said, there’s a school district in NJ where apparently the name rights on the HS football field is by a local race track. The caller wondered if that made sense to have a horse track where people actively gamble made sense for a HS of kids under the age of 18.

Deep pocketed Sports Parents?

And while I think selling naming rights is fine, I can foresee some situations where things could get tricky.

Suppose a highly successful attorney pledges to buy the naming rights to the HS football field, putting up, say, $1 million to be paid over ten years. That’s great. His law firm’s signage would be on the stadium.

But also suppose the attorney has a son in 8th grade who aspires to be a starter on the football team, and the attorney is very eager to see his son’s dreams come true.

You see my concerns. You can practically anticipate what can happen next.

So, the bottom line is that the extra cash for naming rights is great, but it’s always essential for the school board to totally do it’s homework so that there are no potential conflicts in the near future.

DEALING WITH FINANCIAL CONCERNS: The Built-in Value of Used Equipment Banks for Kids

Used-Equipment Banks: One Way to Reduce Costs and Boost Enrollment

 By Doug Abrams

Much has been written lately about the escalating costs of playing youth sports, particularly at the travel and elite levels. Commentators have described burdens imposed by interstate travel and lodging, handsomely paid team coaches, private lessons, scouting services, and the rest.

Much has also been written lately about ways to help restrain costs, particularly at younger age levels in community sports programs below the travel and elite ranks. Many parents sacrifice to assure that their children can play in these programs, but some families are doubtlessly priced out of participation. Sacrifice or no, young parents (a bulk of youth sports parents) also face other financial commitments that can sorely test the family budget.

This column is drawn from my experiences starting up a community youth hockey program when I moved to mid-Missouri from New York several years ago. Particularly at the younger age levels, we sought to boost enrollment by maintaining an “equipment bank” that loaned used equipment to families whose children wished to explore hockey before deciding whether to make a more lasting commitment.

These loans can help attract tentative players to community start-up programs and more established programs alike. Most of these young kids are beginners, not yet ready for travel or elite sports. Initial equipment costs may be their families’ first hurdle, but these costs should not move the finish line out of reach.

Many community youth sports programs already maintain equipment banks. Much of what works in hockey can also work in other sports with high start-up costs. Readers can examine the various guidelines explored below and consider whether to adapt some to suit their own local program’s needs and circumstances.

Creating a Surge

When I moved to mid-Missouri in 1989, the nearest youth hockey was played at a rink operated by the parks and recreation department in Jefferson City, about 100 miles from St. Louis. “Youth hockey” in Jefferson City consisted of about two dozen kids of all ages, who chose up sides and matched lines one night a week under coaches’ supervision. A few kids had full equipment, and some had virtually none. Two players had goalie equipment, some of which did not fit well.

Within three years, Jefferson City youth hockey enrollment had grown to about 175 players who were fully outfitted. Within another two years, we began entering teams in the leagues based in St. Louis and Kansas City. Because youth hockey interest in Jefferson City appeared likely to exceed the hours available for practice sessions and games during these early years, the department raised the possibility of waiting lists, which fortunately never happened thanks to careful scheduling.

No one reason alone accounted for the surging enrollment in those early years, but our equipment bank must rank high on the list. Some hesitant parents confided that their kids often changed interests and hobbies every month. These parents told us that three and four figures seemed a steep price before their child showed lasting interest in hockey.

Kids like new stuff, and some of our bank’s used equipment looked . . . well, used. Much of this used equipment was designed primarily to get a player started, perhaps for a couple of weeks or a few months. Most kids did not wear loaned equipment for very long. Once the player signaled a hockey commitment that was likely to last, the parents usually began purchasing their own equipment, most new and some used.


Drawn from our Jefferson City experiences in those early years, here are some guidelines for youth leagues and parents who wish to maintain equipment banks to outfit young players as they explore a new sport:

Put safety first. Particularly in contact or collision sports, ill-fitting or especially worn- out protective equipment risks injury. For example, youth sports concussions were not yet on the national radar screen in the early 1990s, but we recommended that parents purchase new helmets unless a particular used helmet passed safety inspection and was properly fitted by a sporting goods professional. Lightly used skates, quickly outgrown by the original wearer, might suffice if the skates fit.

Appoint an equipment committee comprised of parents and other former players who are knowledgeable about equipment purchases. We appointed an equipment committee and charged it with several responsibilities, including these: (1) Soliciting donations of used equipment; (2) Inspecting donated equipment to approve what was considered safe, and to discard what was deemed unsafe or too worn out; (3) Storing used equipment in a place that will avoid deterioration; (4) Reconditioning donated equipment that the committee decided could be done relatively simply; (5) Maintaining a written inventory of loaned equipment to assure that families would return it at the end of the season or other period of use; and (6) Because many parents were new to hockey, speaking at preseason team meetings to educate about safety and proper fit.

On or off the equipment committee, try to enlist a sporting goods professional’s volunteer services. This professional – ideally, the owner or knowledgeable employee of a local sporting goods business — can inspect used equipment for safety, and can fit used equipment to a particular player. When a parent borrows used equipment, the business loses a potential sale. But most families do not rely on used equipment permanently, so this volunteer service can generate future sales and local good-will.

Hold a used-equipment sale or an equipment swap during the preseason period. At the ice rink during the preseason period, our program would enable families to come together to buy, sell, or trade used equipment that their players had outgrown. The equipment committee inspected this equipment for safety and offered its advice. We urged parents to bring their player to any sale or swap session where proper fitting might become an issue. Some families did not participate in these sessions but chose instead to donate used equipment to the program outright.

Ask the program’s longtime coaches to solicit used equipment from their former players. Before 1989, I had coached for 20 years in the Nassau County recreation and parks department’s program at Cantiague Park in Hicksville, New York. I had also coached at a New England summer hockey camp. I wrote to a few dozen of my former players who were then in their 20s and 30s. I asked them to send the Jefferson City program equipment that they had finished using and may have stored in their attics. Most of the players responded with boxes and packages, and we reimbursed postage. Some of the equipment was unusable for safety concerns or deterioration, but most enabled us to outfit kids.

Consider contacting other nearby programs and the league, which may store used equipment that is not moving.  The various established St. Louis-area youth hockey programs supported our effort to bring league play to Jefferson City. A few programs responded positively to our requests for used equipment, which they delivered when they faced off in scrimmages against our teams. One generous St. Louis director told me that he could spare some used equipment because his program’s inventory exceeded need, and that equipment sitting in their storage room did no kid any good. In later years, the league itself provided some used equipment from time to time.

Consider seeking local corporate donations that would permit purchase of new equipment. We tried (usually unsuccessfully) to secure donations from local companies for equipment purchases and other immediate needs. Fundraising is not for the faint-hearted. Offering sponsorships or other local publicity may offer incentives, but many local businesses receive plenty of requests every year. A company might be particularly receptive to a solicitation made by a youth hockey parent whom the company employs or does business with.

Beware of Internet sales. Fast forward to the present. The Internet continues to revolutionize many aspects of American life, but the sports program should advise parents that reliance on websites for purchasing used protective sports equipment brings both convenience and potential risks unknown 25 years ago. I know plenty of careful parents who have been satisfied with their website purchases. But impersonal transactions based on photographs do not permit safety inspection of the equipment or personal fitting of the child.

Remain innovative.  Local needs and circumstances may present opportunities that we did not consider 25 years ago. For example, national youth sports governing bodies and local leagues may seek to boost enrollments by conducting sessions that allow kids can “try” the particular sport before the family makes a commitment. These exploratory sessions work best when they outfit kids safely in proper equipment, and when a used-equipment bank can help open initial doors for families whose kids who wish to test the waters by enrolling.

National governing bodies and individual equipment companies may also have grants or other incentives available for outfitting underprivileged youth. If a program thinks it might qualify, it cannot hurt to watch websites and make inquiries. The extra care might make participation available to families who might find themselves on the outside looking in.

 Good Fortune

I speak from personal conviction because an equipment bank launched my own hockey experiences. When I was a young teen nearly 50 years ago, Nassau County opened the Cantiague Park Ice Rink a few minutes from my home. When I attended the recreation and parks department’s first youth hockey session, I showed up with no equipment, except for a beat-up stick, a cup, a $10 pair of skates, and a pair of mittens. But the department supplied goalie equipment (new and used, as I recall). I became a goalie when I decided to put it on rather than sit in the stands until my friend’s parents picked us both up an hour or so later.

That night led to youth hockey, high school hockey, college hockey at Wesleyan University, and more than 40 years of youth hockey coaching. And now regular opportunities to write youth sports columns such as this one.  I don’t know what hockey-less decades would have been like, but I remain thankful for the path that hockey paved.

My own good fortune is why I urge cooperating with parents who contemplate whether to commit to a potentially expensive new sport that seems to interest their young child. I was one of those kids whose interests changed monthly, so I was not a good bet for major hockey expenditures right away. As my hockey interests grew, my parents remained supportive. But I am still grateful for the loaned start-up equipment that I wore beginning when I showed up at Cantiague’s first youth hockey session with virtually none a half century ago.

DEALING WITH FINANCIAL ISSUES: A Legal Overview of Fund Raising and Child Labor Laws

Do Youth Leaguers’ Candy Sales Violate the Child Labor Laws?

Fundraising and Youth Leaguers’ Safety

 By Doug Abrams

 Two weeks ago, Rick Wolff and lawyer Steve Kallas teamed up for a thought provoking show about the legality of a parent-led fundraising project favored by many high school and youth league sports programs. Parents sometimes feel compelled to “volunteer” their time staffing concession stands at professional or collegiate games for a percentage payment that goes entirely to their child’s program. It’s tough work that raises a question. Does the parents’ unpaid work violate federal or state labor laws, including minimum wage laws?

This column concerns a related question. Interscholastic and private youth leagues often require or encourage players to sell candy, participate in car washes, or perform similar fundraising chores whose proceeds go entirely to the program. Fundraising may be a condition of joining the team. Do the leagues violate the child labor laws? The answers raise legal and safety concerns, not only for sports programs, but also for scouts, marching bands, and other youth groups with tight budgets.

The Child Labor Laws

State child labor laws first appeared before World War I, and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 includes child labor provisions. The state and federal laws regulate children’s “work” or “employment.” The laws typically do not define these terms, but the first reaches much further than the second because a child may “work” without being “employed.” (Parents can grasp the distinction. College students “work” hard in the classroom, but the college does not “employ” them because it pays no wages or salary for their studies. Indeed, tuition flows in precisely the opposite direction, from the student to the college.)

The child labor laws generally prohibit work or employment below a minimum age, which (depending on the state) is usually 12 or 14. Work or employment by older children is closely regulated, and younger children typically may work or be employed only in limited activities under their parents’ direct supervision.

Legislative Amendment

Few sports programs encounter child labor difficulties over fundraising activities. In response to isolated complaints (sometimes, I suspect, from disgruntled parents who blow the whistle to labor authorities), state legislatures occasionally amend their child labor laws with narrow youth sports exemptions. These exemptions generally do not reach fundraising. In 2002, for example, the Darien (Ill.) Youth Club’s baseball commissioner received a phone call from the state labor department informing him that the club had committed 86 state child labor violations and faced fines of up to $655,000. The offenses? Paying 12- and 13-year-olds to umpire younger games for $10 a game.

After receiving the phone call, the Darien club reportedly considered asking the young umpires to volunteer, with the tacit expectation that coaches might tip them after the game. The state legislature, however, quickly amended the state’s child labor law to permit 12- and 13-year-olds to work as sports officials, but only with safeguards greater than any that today’s adults would remember from their own playing days. Among other things, the amendment requires the young official’s parent or guardian to be present at the game, and limits the number of hours a child may officiate during weeks when school is in session.

“For Their Own Purpose or Pleasure”

Rather than resort to statutory amendment, states usually conclude that children’s candy sales, car washes, and similar activities do not constitute “work” or “employment” at all, and thus do not violate the child labor laws. In 1978, for example, Pennsylvania’s attorney general concluded that volunteer clean-up activities performed by children as part of civic conservation projects in state parks and forests did not constitute “work” in violation of the state child labor act. The attorney general said that the cleanup activities did not involve “exploitation of the labor of children for commercial or other remunerative purposes.”

In 1990, Virginia’s attorney general concluded that the state child labor act did not require 15-17-year-old hospital volunteers to obtain an employment certificate before performing uncompensated service. The attorney general concluded that the act applied only to minors who were employed in “gainful” occupations, and not to “volunteers who work without compensation for their own purpose or pleasure.”

The Pennsylvania and Virginia attorneys general got it right. States should not apply child labor laws to non-hazardous fundraising activities in youth sports leagues and other youth groups. These activities are not the sort of work or employment that child labor laws were enacted to regulate. The activities do not exploit children for private profit, but rather let children earn a stake in their league’s operation and help defray registration fees and other costs. The children are the ultimate beneficiaries of the money raised.

Hazardous Activities

The child labor laws’ general inapplicability only begins the story because youth organizations’ fundraising projects are not always as benign as they seem. Some of these projects pose special hazards that require close supervision by parents, coaches, and league administrators. The requirement comes not from the force of law, but from the force of adult prudence and common sense.

The Illinois statute discussed above did not relate to fundraising, but it is helpful here because it responded to a known hazard. In prior columns, I have written about how unruly parents and coaches often inflict on teen officials the sort of emotional and sometimes physical abuse that child labor laws seem designed to regulate. ; Even without state child labor legislation such as the Illinois amendment, prudence and common sense would suggest (as the statute now requires) that a parent or league administrator be on the premises when a youngster officiates. Coaches in the heat of the game cannot always be trusted to fulfill responsible supervisory roles.

Door-to-Door Solicitation of Strangers

Children’s door-to-door fundraising solicitation of strangers can also raise serious hazards. In 1997, an 11-year-old New Jersey boy was murdered while selling candy door-to-door alone for his school’s Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). Reportedly he was trying to sell enough candy to earn a set of walkie-talkies offered as an incentive. A 15-year-old robbed him of $200, and strangled and sexually assaulted him.

Sensing potential danger, some states prohibit door-to-door selling by children, but the prohibitions apply only to businesses, and not to non-profit youth groups. Many youth groups reportedly instruct their members not to do fundraising by soliciting strangers door-to-door. The Girls Scouts are typical of groups that establish comprehensive safety rules, including ones requiring on-the-scene adult supervision. The Girl Scouts’ written safety rules warrant attention from sports and other youth groups that may not have ones in place, including groups that may not have considered safety issues but now believe (correctly) that they should.

Thoughts About Youth Leaguers’ Fundraising

When I served as president of a mid-Missouri youth hockey program in the 1990s, preseason fundraising helped assure that price would not exclude any family from participating. Our fundraising projects differed from year to year, but they shared three basic benchmarks – they respected player safety, they were age-appropriate, and they could be completed in a discrete period. One size does not fit all because programs and communities differ, but these major projects served our hockey program well:

We printed a souvenir program, with team rosters, for sale at tournaments. We also did candy sales and occasionally raffles. Players were assigned a quota of advertising revenues to raise or candy or raffle tickets to sell, and a few parents and local businesses stood ready to help players whose families lacked the personal or business connections to meet the quotas with reasonable effort. We advised parents not to allow their players to solicit ads or sell door-to-door to strangers, though players often visited local businesses with their parents. The usual advertisers and purchasers were the player’s parents, relatives, friends, and neighbors.

Some years, we held a huge preseason garage sale in one family’s neighborhood. You would be amazed at how much outgrown clothing and other paraphernalia 150 families can collect when they clean out their attics. Players, parents and coaches together set up the sales and managed them. The sales brought in plenty of money, and the kids felt a genuine stake in the projects without facing danger.

We usually held one or more car washes, supervised by parents and coaches. Youngsters got their hands and clothes wet, but no youngster moved any car or played near any car that had the motor running.

* * * *

These fundraising projects enabled our mid-Missouri hockey program to field teams each year, and we never turned away any family for financial stress. Without weighing the child labor laws, parents were guided by prudence and common sense.



Sources: Elizabeth Weil, Playing the System, N.Y. Times, June 9, 2002, § 6, at 26 (discussing the Darien case); Ron Devlin, The Super Sellers: Despite New Jersey Tragedy, Fund-Raising By Children Isn’t Likely To Stop, Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.), Oct. 5, 1997, at B1; Girl Scout Cookie Selling Safety Rules,


DEALING WITH FINANCIAL CONCERNS: Do “Volunteer” Fund Raisers at NFL Concession Stands Break the Law?

Today’s topic is one of those sports parenting issues that I can see merits from both sides of the issue, and as such, I’m not going to take sides on this one.

But let me lay it out for you, and let’s see what you think. Here’s the story….

This has to do with sports parents who “volunteer” their time at pro or college games to generate money for their kids’ athletic program via booster clubs.

Now, lots of HS athletic programs need funding. Many HS athletic budgets these days just don’t cover all the costs of kids’ sports, whether it be for equipment, coaches, travel, etc.  So when the budget falls short, it falls upon the athletes and their parents to make up the lack of funds.

That’s pretty much NOT a headline – lots of athletic programs depend upon outside fundraisers such as pancake breakfasts or car washes or selling ad space on a HS athletic calendar to local store owners. But in truth, these traditional ways of making money really don’t make a lot of dough. Maybe a few thousand dollars.

But suppose there were a way to generate $20,000 or $25,000 or even more?

And all it involved was a few parents volunteering their time on a Sunday afternoon during the football season to earn this kind of money. Sounds too good to be true, right?

Well, in fact these kinds of fundraising programs DO exist, and they exist in many cities, especially from NFL franchises around the country, such as in Boston, Carolina, Tampa Bay, SF, and presumably others…  All you have to do is work the concession stand on a football Sunday. And they exist in some Major League Baseball and even in college stadiums.

So what’s the catch?

From what I hear, the work in the concession stand is grueling, not glamorous, and I have heard from parents who volunteer to do this work that they absolutely detest it. But then again, these volunteer programs do provide needed money for their kids to play sports.

Example: at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, a number of HS parents’ booster clubs in the Boston area, in search of money, will sign up and  run concession stands during the NFL season.

What that translates into is this: you must arrive at the stadium at least 4 hours before game time, prepare the concession booth, set everything up, cook the food, keep everything  clean, and you understand that if you drop even one hot dog or spill a beer, that will be deducted from your booster club’s check.

And the way I understand this, your HS booster club get a check which is for about 4-6% of the sales you generate.

You, of course, don’t see a dime. Nor any benefits. But your work is nonstop throughout the game, in fact you never see the game, you rarely get a break during your stint, and when the game is over, you need to stay for at least another to clean up, scrape the grills, take the garbage, and on and on.

Again, not glamorous. Nor fun.

One mom, who remains anonymous, told me it was a totally exhausting day. She emphasized that she wasn’t of faint heart – that she knew how to put a lot of sweat into a job, but that this work was over the top.

Remember-  these Moms and Dads are volunteers…not employees…and they don’t get a  paycheck, but rather any monies they generate is paid by the team or owner directly to the booster club, and presumably they get a charitable tax deduction for their largesse.

Friends, there are lots of issues with this practice, and many of them  from a legal perspective. I asked WFAN legal expert Steve Kallas onto the show, and after researching Fair Labor laws and even a US Supreme Court case, Steve felt that these practices were indeed illegal.

But that being said, who’s going to complain? Why would a sports parent “volunteer” openly complain about this system? Because to do so would jeopardize lots of money for a HS booster club. That is, all the NFL owner has to say is, “Okay, if this is illegal, then we’ll stop doing it.”

That would be terrible, because all that money would stop flowing to booster clubs. And clearly no one wants that to stop.

But Steve brought up real questions: What happens if a volunteer gets hurt? Say one burns oneself on a grill? Who covers their costs?

Or suppose a volunteer sells too much beer to a fan, who gets intoxicated, and on the way home in his car, kills someone. Is the volunteer and the booster club liable? Or is the pro team?

According to the way the paperwork is drawn up, volunteers are NOT employees nor do they have any benefits, such as liability or health insurance. In other words, if they get hurt or sued, they’re on their own.

And in order for a team owner or NFL franchise to be able to get a tax deduction, the booster club which receives the money needs to be a registered 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization. The truth is, not all booster clubs are set up in this fashion.

So….do we stop this?

Hard to say what the right thing to do is…but certainly no one wants the money to stop.

But if the law is being violated, maybe the time has come to rewrite some of the employment law and tax code so that booster clubs can continue to do this kind of fund raising, but at the same time, can be protected from any potential legal violations.

That would seem like the best and most appropriate pathway to follow.


DEALING WITH FINANCIAL CONCERNS: Do Parents Have a Right to Protest What’s Posted on the Team Shirts?


Accepting and Rejecting Youth League Sponsors

By Doug Abrams

 The opening game was still a few days away, but the Little League baseball program in Lambertville, Ohio faced the season’s first controversy last week when officials handed out uniforms for the Cubs, a team in the 6-8-year-old division.  The Cubs’ jerseys carried the name of the team’s sponsor, Todd’s Guns, a local business whose website advertises itself as a “class 3 dealer now authorized to sell machine guns and silencers.”

Some parents, including Cubs coach Barry Walters, refused to allow their children to wear the jerseys. “Don’t use my kid as a billboard to promote guns,” said Walters, who reportedly recalled December’s tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  “I think it was a [bold] move,” another player’s mother told the Toledo Blade, “just to assume a parent is fine with their child having something about firearms on a baseball jersey.”

By the end of the week, the dispute was resolved by compromise.  Children of parents who objected would receive a Cubs jersey with the gun shop’s name covered.

When the Lambertville controversy surfaced, the Little League’s board of directors said that they do not discriminate among prospective sponsors, and that the $500 fee paid by sponsors help fund the program.  Neither argument is persuasive.  Youth sports leagues should not (and almost certainly would not) accept every would-be sponsor that walks through the door, and I have never heard of a league that fell into bankruptcy for losing one sponsor.

Protecting Parental Prerogatives

In our nation, early childhood social and political acculturation is a parental prerogative.  Youth sports leagues risk usurping that prerogative when they hand little children uniforms with a name or message that may run counter to the values their parents teach in the home.  Hot-button social and political issues do not belong in sports leagues for 6-8-year-olds, or indeed for children of any age.

The Lambertville board of directors should have realized that names or messages invoking gun rights (or gun control) would unduly intrude on decisionmaking authority that parents are entitled to exercise for their children. Abortion is a similar hot-button issue.  As a condition for children’s participation, for example, a local sports league would be off-base if it provided uniforms bearing the name of pro-choice Planned Parenthood or pro-life National Right to Life Committee.  Lawyers call this evenhanded scrutiny “content neutral” because the decisionmakers (here, the league’s board of directors) do not distinguish between names or messages they like and ones they dislike, but rather treat both sides alike.  

When families join a sports program, parents expect participation to have a beneficial effect on their children’s upbringing.  But parents do not yield their authority to sort out gun control, abortion and other social and political issues in their own homes.  The 6-8-year-old Cubs likely played in an open-enrollment division designed to introduce baseball to the youngest children, but roster positions frequently depend on tryouts in later years.  Parents who rightfully object may appear like troublemakers or gadflies, and thus may feel forced to choose between remaining silent or perhaps jeopardizing their children’s position on the team.  

Determining whether a particular prospective sponsor carries a sensitive social or political message better left to the parents may require judgment calls from the board of directors, but parents and league administrators frequently make judgment calls as they raise children or serve their best interests in sports.  Edifying books find a welcome place in the home, for example, but pornography does not.  League administrators would likely reject sponsorship by a business that operates a local topless bar or an “adult” peep show. 

Leagues should similarly reject prospective sponsors whose names or messages would likely intrude on decisionmaking by some parents who object in good faith.  Content-neutral scrutiny says nothing pro or con about the sponsor but respects the parental role, even if rejection deprives league coffers of a few dollars.  Rejection of topless bars and peep shows might have similar effects, but all businesses are not created equal and losing a sponsor would not leave the league insolvent.


[Sources:  Nolan Rosenkrans, Gun Shop’s Name on Youth Jerseys Concerns Parents, Toledo (Ohio) Blade, Apr. 27, 2013; Toledo Blade, Parents Debate Over Baseball Jerseys Sporting Gun Shop Logo, Apr. 26, 2013]

DEALING WITH FINANCIAL CONCERNS: “Scholarships at the Youth Level”


Financial Assistance for Families in Need:

More Strategies for Achieving Diversity in Youth Sports

By Doug Abrams


When I was president of the local youth hockey association nearly 20 years ago, one of our families hit temporary hard times.  The father was laid off, and the mother had been working only part-time so that she could be home when the hockey player and his siblings finished school each day.  Jobs near the small community were scarce, and the family took a sudden financial hit through no fault of its own.

The player was well liked by his teammates and coaches, and his parents had always supported the coaches and respected the game. Hockey is expensive, and the board of directors grew concerned that the father’s unemployment might lead the family to leave the association as the parents tightened the purse strings.  We did not want that to happen.

The media regularly reports that youth sports is recession-proof because parents typically sacrifice to assure their children’s continued participation.  Sacrifice, however, has its limits.

In the past month or so, I have written two columns about achieving diversity in youth sports by encouraging participation by children who might otherwise find themselves shut out.  In December, I wrote about children with disabilities.  Two weeks ago, I wrote about refugees and other immigrant children. The two columns shared a common theme: “The impulse to include, rather than exclude, children marks youth sports at its finest.”

 This column continues the inclusion theme by discussing meaningful strategies for enrolling children whose families appear unable to pay standard fees, which may exceed a thousand dollars annually nowadays.  The number of financially-distressed families whose children seek participation each year might seem small in many associations (as they were in ours), but the stakes loom large for the child who would be sidelined.


Our hockey association always stood ready to assist families that faced financial limitations, usually only about one or two families in most years. The affected child might have played with us in the past, or might be seeking to enroll for the first time. In appropriate cases, we would waive all or part of the registration fee and, where appropriate, assist with other hockey-related expenditures. The association called the assistance “scholarships,” a name that made sense because, to paraphrase Congress when it passed a major education bill in 2001, we would “leave no child behind.” We always told people that our hockey association was a “family,” and we proved it by doing everything we could to assure that financial circumstances would not sideline a boy or girl. 

Our scholarship decisions focused on the family’s needs, and not on whether the child might score plenty of goals. Many youth sports associations already maintain scholarship programs for needy children, complete with proven methods that make the programs work.  Here are five guidelines that assured the success of our hockey association’s program:

1) “Room for one more.”  Our association paid a standard hourly fee for ice time and referees. Our other expenditures also remained relatively constant over time, though we anticipated that they would modestly increase from year to year. 

Let’s assume that in a given year, we enrolled 150 players whose families each paid the full registration fee.  Our expenditures would not change if the number became 151 because we added one player who received a total or partial scholarship.  Our only “loss” would be all or part of one registration fee, which we never had in the first place.  We balanced the books with budget management and more focused fundraising.

When a family requires assistance with fees and costs, a youth sports association should apply the lesson that Cary Grant learned in a 1952 film when his wife (played by actress Betsy Drake) continued taking foster children into their home — There is always “Room for One More.” 

2)   Act discreetly.  When a family needs financial assistance, parents may remain reluctant to ask for it and may even feel embarrassed to accept it.  Parents usually want to assume responsibility for raising their own children and usually resist advertising dire straits. 

Our hockey association made sure that the identities of scholarship recipients did not become known, in the association or elsewhere, without the consent of the recipients’ parents.  Rather than require a formal letter or application, a board member would talk privately with the parents to ascertain their position and explain why we wanted to help assure their child’s participation.  In some years, the board would appoint the treasurer or another member to make scholarship decisions, though in particular cases we might rely instead on a board member who knew the family. 

One way or another, what happened in the board room stayed in the board room.  Our budget, which was publicly available to member families, recited the number of scholarships awarded without naming the recipients. I believe that in some cases, even the players themselves did not know that they were scholarship recipients because our discussions were exclusively with their parents.  If a player learned the circumstances, the word came from the mother or father. 

3)  Suggest the parents’ active participation in the association.  For parents who might seem reluctant or somewhat embarrassed to accept a scholarship, personal sensibilities may matter.   Sometimes the board would suggest that in return, the parents assume a more active role in the association, such as greater responsibility for apparel sales or participation in some other administrative capacity.  Over the years, every parent who received financial assistance pitched in with gusto.

Creative fundraising can also assist families that feel the financial pinch.  Our association published an annual yearbook that featured not only the players’ headshots and biographies, but also advertising that players would secure from local businesses and individuals. The ad campaign boosted the association’s treasury, but any family could credit a set percentage of its ad revenues to offset a portion of the registration fee.  Rarely was the percentage enough to offset the entire fee, but the percentage could surely make a significant dent if a player was particularly industrious. 

Some families feeling financial distress have the sort of personal connections that produce ad revenue from non-relatives, and some families do not.  Board members often steered advertisers to players whose families needed the offset but struggled with finding advertisers for themselves.     

4) Consider the family’s other sports-related expenses. In youth sports nowadays, the registration fee may be only the tip of the iceberg for parents who then face steep costs for equipment, uniforms and travel.  Waiving or adjusting only the registration fee may simply position the parents for failure.

Our youth hockey association conducted an annual preseason used-equipment sale and exchange to permit any parent to purchase quality pre-owned equipment that other children had outgrown.  On road trips, families sometimes saved on gas by doubling up in the car or van, and a player might occasionally bring a sleeping bag and camp out on another family’s hotel room floor if his own parents did not make the trip.  One way or another, we always made the season work.

 5) Consider outside sources.  Money can be tight, but alternative avenues are worth exploring. Rather than having all or part of the registration fee waived, some families may feel more comfortable with an installment payment plan.  Local businesses might be willing to sponsor a particular player identified by the board. If the sports association has an arrangement with the parks and recreation department or a local charitable foundation, these sources may already maintain scholarship programs for qualifying families whose children participate in sports or another extracurricular activity.          

The Beneficiaries of Inclusion

To finish the story that began this column, the laid-off father found new employment locally after a few months of uncertainty, and the family even paid a higher registration fee for the next two years to return the scholarship and help make assistance available to someone else.  His son continued playing hockey for several more years, and the family remained an asset to the association.  Few people knew what we had done, but the few who knew felt mighty good about it, and rightfully so.

The media occasionally reports about a youth sports league that goes a step beyond what our hockey association accomplished each year.  Sometimes with corporate or foundation support, the league outfits all players and charges no registration fee.  Like associations that perform what this column describes, these initiatives deserve respect and gratitude.

The immediate beneficiaries of scholarship programs are the youth leaguers who get the chance to play, but they are not the only beneficiaries. Parents also benefit because sports provides their children lifelong memories of victory and defeat shared with family and friends.  Board members benefit because they know they have done something worthwhile for a deserving youngster. The community benefits because lessons learned on the field help build solid citizens, many of whom remain in the community to raise families years later.