A full-time firefighter, Shane West has two other part-time jobs to keep his kids on the ball fields.
Daughter Peyton West, an Eastern Hancock sophomore, is a softball standout and up-and-coming basketball player. Senior son Parker West is among the Royals’ top track and field and cross country distance runners.
Both West children take part in summer sports, with Peyton heavily involved with the travel softball circuit and Parker entering as many five-kilometer races as possible.
The distance races all come with entry fees and travel softball – the same as travel baseball, basketball and so on – requires team tourney and camp registration fees, and funds for hotels, fuel, extra food, equipment and activities for downtime, if there is any.
Combined, expenses for the summer alone can run into the thousands. So, Shane West does what is necessary.
“The time he sacrifices is great, and sometimes it’s hard to let him do that, but there is nothing he wouldn’t do to make it work for the kids,” said wife and mom, Amy West, who also has a full-time job.
The Wests are very much a modern, ordinary sports family. Across Hancock County and across the country, folks are putting more time and more money into their kids’ summer sports endeavors.
Kids Play USA, a national youth sports organization dedicated to making sports available and affordable for all children, notes as typical examples a dad in Pennsylvania paying $10,000 annually for his three girls to play volleyball and a mom in Georgia forking over $4,000 a year for her nine-year-old son’s baseball endeavors.
Much of that money is due in the summer, when basketball, baseball, softball, wrestling, soccer and volleyball groups travel to all points of the country for massive tournaments.
Families with incomes less than $60,000 are four times more likely to decrease participation in sports due to costs, Kids Play USA notes.
By the time the school year starts, which was this week in Hancock County, it can be a welcome financial relief for those families who spent heavily in the summer.
“School sports are very affordable,” Amy West said. “Cross country and track haven’t had new uniforms since before Parker started running his freshman year, so really all we buy for that is running shoes.
“Basketball and softball offer opportunities to work concessions or get sponsorships for different events and that defers our costs, but even if we didn’t have those, we’re talking maybe $150, pennies compared to travel ball.”
The Pooles of New Palestine have gone through the sports cycle with three children: Evan, age 20 and now a tennis player at Trine University; Abby, a senior high school golfer for the Dragons; and Audrey, 12, a volleyball and track and field enthusiast.
“Summer time is the make or break time for your improvement in most sports and taking your game to another level,” their mom, Dee Dee Poole, said. “High school girls golf literally has six days to practice before their first match and tennis was very similar. You have either prepared or you have not. It’s that simple.”
Abby Poole recently earned a golf scholarship to Huntington University in northern Indiana. She is, in fact, the school’s first-ever golf recruit after the Foresters began a women’s golf program. Poole, a New Palestine senior and two-time sectional champ, may not have been able to land a spot at Huntington had she not given up her second love, tennis.
The prep golf summer tour series begins the first week of June, nearly the exact time the school year ends and just a week or so after girls tennis sectionals.
Continuing with tennis for Poole would have meant virtually no time on the links the entire spring.
“Abby was heartbroken to give up tennis after playing varsity her freshman and sophomore years,” said Dee Dee, wife of Wayne Poole. “Tennis season is so brutally compact, intense and busy that it literally demands six days of matches and practices with very little time for adequate rest, time for college bound academic tracks or staying in the groove with any other sports like golf. There was no way she could play as a junior and be ready for her first summer tour series June 3rd.”
“What I don’t like about the competitive level of sports is it is almost impossible for the most athletic kids to have enough time in their lives to compete in more than two varsity sports at the levels they desire to play.”
Beginning in 2001, the Indiana High School Athletic Association allowed open summer participation for high school teams, save for one moratorium week. Prior to that, nearly the opposite was true: basketball coaches, for example, were limited to watching (and not directing) open gyms. The change came under threat of lawsuit; courts in other states had ruled that high school athletic associations had limited legal mandate to oversee activities outside the school year.
Travel ball has never been under any such restrictions, but as it has become more competitive, the IHSAA change only added to the hectic summers for prep athletes and their families.
Peyton West, the Eastern Hancock softball slugger, plays with the Indiana Shockwaves, who recently returned from Virginia and the ASA Nationals. West (who was accompanied by dad, Shane) was the only EH player on the squad. In between softball action this summer, West participated in the Royals’ high school basketball camp.
Likewise, the Poole kids – Evan, Abby and Audrey – have juggled mostly independent travel sports with official team summer camps.
“Over the last 10 years, we have seen the offseason commitment level increase dramatically,” Dee Dee Poole said. “Ten years ago, if the kids attended a four-day clinic offered by the school, and we practiced occasionally with them as a family over the summer they were prepared to start a season. We would see them gradually improve during the season.
“These days, it seems they need to be on top of their games when the season starts, maintain it and hope to finish with some good victories and accomplishments.”
Jodi Alexander laments the increased summer athletic pressure. Her son, Austin, is a recently enrolled freshman at Defiance College in Ohio, where he was accepted into the golf program following a successful prep career.
It was a proud accomplishment of Austin’s to play collegiate golf, and he put in plenty of hours of practice to make it happen. The Alexander family, though, had three children playing year-round sports at one point, and Mom said it’s important to maintain perspective.
“I feel like (summer sports) are much more demanding on the kids,” Jodi Alexander commented. “I don’t like the fact that family vacations have to fall to the wayside, because sports take precedence now. I understand that some kids live to play the sport they love – I have one of those kids – but they are only young once and I think family time is very important.
“Hopefully all the time and effort you have put in as a parent pays off when they go to college if they are looking to pursue their sport further.”
Indeed, a summer dedicated to sports may not be for everyone.
“Travel sports are meant for kids who want to get to the next level, those that want to play college ball,” Amy West said. “The expense is nothing in comparison if the kid works their butt off and earns scholarships for that sport. It is definitely not just for the love of the game. That’s a bonus.”
For more on summer sports and athletics affordability, visit kidsplayusafoundation.org.