Mt. Vernon drops pay-to-play

FORTVILLE — When Mt. Vernon football players and marching band members hit the field this school year, they’ll have at least one thing in common: They won’t be paying fees to the district for the privilege of participating in their activities.

At its meeting Monday night, the Mt. Vernon School Board eliminated the pay-to-participate program, removing what board members described as prohibitively high fees for students participating in both athletics and extracurricular activities.

Mt. Vernon High School athletes had been paying $225 per sport; students at the middle school had been paying $100 per sport; and club fees at both schools were $25. The school system did not offer discounts for families with multiple students. The fees generated about $190,000, but they also made for some difficult choices for families.

“Those fees kept some kids from participating at all in those activities and prevented some from doing multiple sports,” school board president Tony May said. “If you have three students who are playing three sports each, then that’s a lot of money.”

Newly hired Superintendent Shane Robbins, who suggested the elimination, came to the board with a plan for recouping the money after having taken similar action at his previous school district.

Robbins proposed the district recoup some of the money by renting out the schools’ athletic facilities to traveling tournaments.

Before coming to Mt. Vernon School Corp. this summer, Robbins eliminated pay-to-participate fees as superintendent of Northwestern Consolidated School District of Shelby County. He said the school district was able to recover nearly $160,000 in lost revenue by renting the district’s high school fieldhouse to outside athletic competitions and by selling concessions.

“It’s not the intention of the district to absorb that cost,” Robbins told the board. “This is motivation for the district to do some things that we haven’t done in the past. We need to start advertising our outstanding facilities here — the swimming pool, the baseball and softball diamonds, the fieldhouse and gymnasiums that are all close to one another.”

Robbins’ proposal had board member Kellie Freeman’s full support.

Freeman’s eighth-grade daughter plays three sports at the middle school, so she knows firsthand the burden participation fees can place on parents.

“Fortunately, I can afford to let her do all those activities, but there are times when I just go, ‘Oh my, another check.’” she said. “They add up.”

Gabe Muterspaugh, who’s coached boys and girls tennis at Mt. Vernon High School for 20 years, said he hopes the decision will encourage more students to join his teams.

“In the past, I used to have 30 to 45 kids on the boys team, but we only had 17 last year,” Muterspaugh said. “I’m hoping that a lot of kids who may have just been basketball or baseball guys might want to play another sport now without feeling the financial burden.”

Mt. Vernon’s new athletic director, Brandon Ecker, will work closely with Robbins to market district facilities to outside athletic leagues that can host tournaments at Mt. Vernon.

Board member Michael McCarty said the district already has placed a bid for an upcoming baseball tournament.

The county’s other public school districts — Eastern Hancock, Southern Hancock and Greenfield-Central — will require pay-to-participate fees for the coming school year.

Eliminating the fees was approved for 12 months, and the board will re-evaluate the decision next summer based on how successful the district is in leasing out facilities.

Robbins is optimistic.

“This is a great way of bringing people from outside the community to showcase our facilities,” he said. “I’ve watched it in action before, and it really is incredible just how much money can be generated through this.”

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or