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It's Pay to Play at Castro Valley High School

School district makes donations a cost of entry into high school sports.

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Students signing up for sports at Castro Valley High School received a surprise earlier this month. Anyone wishing to participate in athletics during the 2010-2011 school year is being strongly encouraged to cough up as much as $325 in donations just to don a Trojan jersey.

In the wake of $5.1 million in state cuts to the Castro Valley Unified School District's annual budget, the district was forced to make difficult decisions regarding what departments and programs to prioritize. So under the new athletics policy at Castro Valley High, there are three tiers of suggested donations for students who wish to participate in sports: a $225 contribution for swimming, track, cross country, and boy's tennis; a $275 contribution for badminton, baseball, girl's basketball and soccer, and boy's soccer and wrestling; and a $325 contribution for football, golf, softball, volleyball, boy's basketball, and girl's tennis and wrestling.

These fees are designed to cover the costs of coaching, training, student transportation, officiating, and other costs, said Andy Popper, the school's athletic director. Uniforms and equipment fees are not included with these contribution amounts, although most equipment is free since it is reused year after year.

The financial challenges of sports at Popper's school only mirror those of many other California schools. The school is not making student donations mandatory. It's relying instead on parents and members of the community to come through for the athletes. All students who participate in sports will help raise funds for the school's athletic program, Popper said. The district hopes that some contributions will exceed the suggested amounts for each sport in order to help subsidize students who cannot afford to contribute. "No one is being turned away," Popper said. "There is no next step for students who can't afford to donate, but various community programs have been helping."

Popper, who oversees most fundraisers, said $85,000 has been raised already. Roughly $265,000 is required to run a full athletic program for the school year at Castro Valley High, he said, and with ongoing contributions from small businesses and the energetic Castro Valley High School Athletic Boosters Club, Popper believes the program will survive. "One way or the other, we're going to have a full program this year," he said. Roughly 800 students play sports at the school, many of whom sign up for multiple sports, which require multiple yearly donations from the same athlete.

Ironically, Castro Valley High opened a brand new $15 million sports stadium in 2007. Whether or not student athletes continue to use the stadium in the coming years is up to donors.

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