Youth sports become big time at big cost
Participation on club teams no guarantee for scholarship
Chris Salyers will be among the undergraduates at Capital University heading to class Aug. 25 for the start of fall semester. Those classes come with a cost, as the full-time tuition for undergraduate programs at Capital is $27,680 for the 2008-09 school year.
Salyers also will play on the Crusaders men's soccer team. For the past 10 years, soccer has been his passion. In the fall at Hilliard Darby High School, he was the starting goalkeeper since midway through his sophomore season. Offseasons were spent playing with the Hilliard Ohio Soccer Association's top-level, or select, club teams.
"We spent $15,000 over those years Chris played club," said Cheryl Salyers, Chris' mother. "It was almost $1,000 a year just for club fees, and that doesn't include travel or hotel fees. If you look back and think we could have put that toward his first year at Capital, that would have been a good chunk."
For the 2007-08 school year, the College Board, a non-profit organization connected with the college administration process, figured the average annual cost at a four-year public school was $6,185, with the average cost at a private school at $23,712.
Deb Papesh estimates she will spend up to $2,000 this year -- or one-fourth of the average tuition at a public school -- on basketball and basketball-related activities for her daughter, Katie. A junior guard for the Dublin Scioto girls team, Katie spends her free time training, developing, learning and, finally, playing basketball.
"She's not a big shopper," Deb said. "Where else would we be putting this cost?"
Outsiders may side with Cheryl Salyers' logic. For the amount of money that is now spent in participating with a club team and receiving personal instruction and personal training, why not play the sport in the high school season for a nominal cost and save the rest toward college?
In other words, why play club sports? Sandy Niederkohr has heard the question before.
"I've had people say to me the money you've spent could have paid for college many times over," said Niederkohr, a Marysville resident whose daughter, Holly, is a senior on the Michigan State women's golf team. "It's true. But you can't buy a spot on a college golf team. Golf was what she wanted to do."
Christine Polak, a single mother who lives in Hilliard, was introduced to high-level club soccer last year. Polak and her daughter, Alexis, 14, and son, Zach, 12, live for soccer.
"I am the epitome of what a soccer mom is and I love it," Polak said.
Not only do Alexis and Zach enjoy playing soccer, they have developed into good players. Last year, both reached a point where Polak needed a different venue to help feed their developing skills.
"Select soccer has better coaching and it's a better experience to get them prepared for high school ball," Polak said. "Or, if I opt to stay in Hilliard Select, they'll get better preparation to play in college."
It comes at a cost. For each child, she had to pay $900 to join the team.
"You have to pay a lot more money, and being a single parent, it's definitely challenging," Polak said. "At the same time, I always put my children first and I adjusted my budget to make sure my kids can play."
Polak knew of the cost before she made the decision, one that was not viewed as an investment toward a college scholarship.
"Unless Zach turns out to be the next David Beckham, he more than likely won't get a scholarship," Polak said. "Some parents are out there looking for a scholarships, but I think mostly parents are looking to better their children and have a good experience growing up and make your children feel good."
Deb Papesh opened her two-inch thick planner and rifled through in search of a typical week for her daughter, Katie.
Sunday night -- Open gym at Dublin Scioto for an hour and a half.
Tuesday and Thursday mornings -- Weightlifting sessions with her teammates.
Tuesday and Thursday evenings -- Summer league play.
Wednesday evening --Practice with AAU team, V-Speed, in Pickerington for two and a half hours.
During that span, she squeezes in two one-hour sessions with basketball personal instructor Toni Roesch and personal trainer Jono Green.
In the spring, Papesh's schedule increases with weekend AAU tournament games Friday, Saturday and Sunday. She is guaranteed to play three games and could play as many as six.
"We worry about overloading her too much mentally as well as physically," Deb said. "We ask her from time to time if it's too much."
Katie began down this path when she was in fifth grade. After earning a spot on a travel team, she wanted to continue to improve.
"A lot of other coaches told me I should play, and club basketball was something in the offseason to do," Katie said.
"We jumped in," Deb said. "She took private lessons from (Roesch), and from there on, every season she wanted to play. This came from Katie more than me. I never played basketball and my husband never played basketball. He was a swimmer and I was a cheerleader. But if Katie wanted to do this to get better, fine with us."
Katie, a junior, is a starter for Scioto. The Irish finished 20-4 last season after losing to Pickerington Central 70-62 in overtime in a Division I district final. Still, Scioto has three consecutive 20-win seasons, three consecutive appearances in a district final and three consecutive OCC titles.
She led the sophomore class last season, averaging 9.3 points per game, and she was named honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league. She credits her time playing travel and AAU basketball in helping her make the varsity -- and contribute --as a sophomore.
"I definitely (play AAU basketball) to get better for the school team," Katie said. "There's a lot of exposure you get at events for college, but mostly it's for the school team. We have big goals at Scioto and this year we're trying to get to the state tournament. We're all trying hard to reach those goals."
Rob Stevens is well-aware of what the Papesh family is experiencing. He is the father of two daughters who play Division I college basketball in Stephanie Stevens at the University of Cincinnati and Kristen Stevens at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C. He also is the coach of Katie Papesh's AAU team, V-Speed.
"The whole goal is to get better for your high school team, and you get better in the offseason," he said. "I want kids to enjoy their high school years, read the newspaper articles on their teams, see their pictures in the paper. I want them to get that recognition and that's what high school ball is all about."
According to Stevens, AAU's place is to improve on fundamentals and get noticed by college scouts and coaches. Pickerington Central senior post player Emilee Harmon verbally committed to Ohio State last spring and Harmon played for Stevens.
"We had the coach from Duke, who is now at Texas, and the coach from Notre Dame visit," he said. "When you go to AAU tournaments and you make it to the quarter(finals), semi(finals) or finals, not only are the opponent's five players great at their respective high schools, the kids coming off the bench are starters, too. The competition is different than in high school.
"Where they're seen by college coaches is in AAU during the spring and summer. I believe that's primary now for kids who want to get to the next level."
In sports like basketball, volleyball and soccer in which club sports are big, the college seasons are in sync with most high school seasons.
In October 2002, Matchpoint Volleyball, Inc., began to provide a source for volleyball-specific performance improvement. In addition to instruction, Matchpoint offers club teams that play in the high school offseason.
"A lot of kids want to play collegiately and coaches are available in the spring to watch the kids," said Jeanne Colpus, president of Matchpoint. "This is an avenue for college coaches to meet those kids."
Scott Johnson's son, Kyle, has played club soccer in Pickerington since he was 9 years old. Last season, Kyle played at the Crossroads Invitational in Carmel, Ind.
"About 40 college coaches signed up," Scott said. "(Coaches) just don't have time to get to high school games. Club soccer is a better way to get noticed by college scouts."
Chris Salyers had a few offers from Marietta and Urbana before settling on Capital. In the end, Salyers benefited from his club coaches' connections with Capital, but it was not his only means to getting noticed.
"We asked Marietta how they knew Chris," Cheryl Salyers said. "They said through his high school team."
Chris Salyers is among the few to be playing college soccer. According to the NCAA, fewer than three in 50 (5.5 percent) of high school senior boys will go on to play men's soccer at an NCAA member institution, Divisions I, II and III.
The NCAA studied men's soccer, men's basketball, women's basketball, football, baseball and men's ice hockey in addition to men's soccer. Ice hockey had the highest percentage of high school seniors advancing to play at a NCAA member institution at 11 percent and men's basketball was the lowest at three percent.
"If your only purpose is to have your child play youth athletics is to get a scholarship, you're misguided," said Ashley Jakeway, the program director at Hilliard Ohio Soccer Association. "You're better off getting them a tutor to study a lot. There are more academic scholarships up for grabs."
Chris Salyers earned an academic scholarship to Capital. In Division III, athletics scholarships are not allowed. Salyers planned on going to Urbana until a coaching change. He contacted Capital's coach, Dwight Burgess, by e-mail.
"I asked if I could come and try out," Chris said. "He e-mailed me back saying that he already saw me play on my select team and at some of my high school games. He said he'd love to have me on his team."
Salyers received an $8,500 academic scholarship from Capital.
What Cheryl Salyers found is the athletics scholarships do not come close to the estimated $15,000 she and her husband, Steve, spent on Chris' club sports career.
"Urbana offered Chris $3,500," she said. "It was small, but when we talked to (Ohio State men's soccer coach John Bleum) he said it's typical for even Division I. It's rare to see full scholarships for soccer like you do in football."
Football may give more full scholarships, but it does not have club sports in the offseason. Instead, football players attend camps in hopes to get noticed.
Westerville resident and Columbus Academy 2008 graduate Brad Lind had to find other ways to get noticed as he was attempting to earn a scholarship as a long-snapper.
"There's really not a whole lot a football players can do other than make a good videotape or DVD and send it out to coaches," Lind said. "Unless it's a skill position, people know of you through what other coaches say."
In October of his sophomore year, Lind came across a brochure on Chris Sailer Kicking camps held in cities throughout the country focusing on kicking, punting and long-snapping. Intrigued, Lind traveled to Chicago to meet the camp's long-snapping instructor, Chris Rubio, later that year.
"(Camps) are the best way for guys to get noticed," Lind said.
Last summer, Lind attended a combine in Las Vegas and was named as one of the top 12 high school seniors in the country for long-snapping by Scout.com. By attending the camps, Lind has been to Las Vegas twice, California three times and cities such as Chicago, Dallas and Pittsburgh.
On May 16, he signed a letter of intent to continue his career at Elon (N.C.) University. According to the NCAA, about 5.7 percent, or approximately one in 17, of high school seniors play college football at a NCAA member institution.
"All the hard work and trips all over the country were definitely worth it," Lind said.
Jim Link has been part of Dublin Youth Athletics for 25 years. Today, Link is the athletics director at DYA, which is a community recreation and travel sports organization that provides programs for more than 3,000 young athletes. DYA is an organization comprised of parent volunteers, the city of Dublin Recreation Services Department and the Dublin City Schools.
"We support club programs and we recognize they are out there," Link said.
Link also faced a situation in which he realized just how established and recognizable club sports can be.
"I went up to Oshkosh, Wis., for a day and met with a guy who was offering me a career to start in Columbus and organize youth basketball teams," Link said. "It would have cost a player $300 to play in a spring basketball league. For that, they'd get a uniform and three tournaments."
Link asked himself why they settled on $300. He did the math.
"I figured out they were going to give me $150 of it," he said. "Well, that was way too much money for my time."
"It's becoming big business," said Brad Monhollen, the boys soccer coach at Pickerington Central and a former club sports coach. "It makes me wonder where we put the emphasis on our kids. It's become a powerful force in Ohio."
As a coach at Central, Monhollen is pleased that his players have an avenue in which to improve in the offseason. He knows first-hand the dangers of being involved with soccer all year long.
In addition to his time as a high school coach, Monhollen would coach club teams and provide personal instruction for goalkeepers.
"When I was doing it 365 (days a year) it burned me out," he said. "I didn't enjoy soccer. I took a break and I was more enthused and a better coach."
The club sports do provide instruction and the chance for young athletes to improve, but there is money to be made.
"Parents shell it over like they're buying their kids' college education," Link said.
Not only does it cost money, but some parents are being taken advantage of, according to Westerville Central athletics director Andy Ey.
"There's a place in club sports for people who want to specialize and improve their skills," he said. "But the bad things and a reason I'm not a big fan of it, it convinces kids and lures kids and parents into giving up other sports to focus on one. That's a shame because kids are giving up multiple sports way too young."
Zach and Alexis Polak have dwindled their sports down to just soccer. At Hilliard Ohio Soccer Association, their mother is paying $1,800 a year for both to play in the select program.
According to president Greg Lutz, HOSA carefully calculates its fees.
"We've been taking a hard look at fees every year," Lutz said. "We try to figure out how much each program costs us on a per child basis and do a zero-based budget concept to where they need to be so we're not losing money."
According to information provided by Lutz, HOSA's fees are broken down by 61.17 percent to trainers, 12.23 percent to maintaining the fields, 10.85 percent to league fees, 5.91 percent to tournament fees, 5.20 percent to referees and 4.64 percent to the "other" category that includes office rental, Internet and phone service, accounting services, postage, copies and salary of HOSA's only full-time employee, administrator Jill Vink.
A majority of HOSA's cost goes to the select team's coaches, or "trainers." In HOSA's less-expensive recreational leagues, the coaches are usually parent volunteers.
One of Ashley Jakeway's responsibilities as HOSA's program director is to lead soccer education clinics for its volunteer coaches.
"I get questions like I've never seen a soccer game played," Jakeway said. "You could get a great coach in rec soccer, but you also have the chance to get someone whose never seen a game. In Select, we hire professional trainers to lower that possibility. You may get a first-year coach, but that first-year coach has played for 10 or 15 years and they know the game.
"A very high amount of the cost goes to the trainer and the trainer is the person who has the most bearing on your experience."
Cheryl Salyers admits her family has enjoyed its experience in club soccer during Chris' career. Her younger son, Austin, 12, left HOSA's select team this year to focus on his middle school team at Heritage.
"One of the biggest factors was money," Cheryl said. "The scholarship money Chris received compared to what we put into select soccer was minuscule."
After the experience with their older son, the Salyers family decided to forgo a season of club to save the money.
"If you're in it for the money, thinking the child will get a payoff, that's not going to happen," Salyers said. "We've done soccer for a lot of years. I've seen kids who never played club soccer go on to to play in college and vice versa. A lot of clubs promote themselves for the money and to keep all those people employed. It is good for the boys and my kids got a lot of enjoyment, but your children either have the talent or they don't."
According to Jakeway, HOSA is set up with a standard business model.
"You have cars that are entry-level models and that's like our rec leagues," Jakeway said. "Then, if you want more of a luxury vehicle, that is what club (select) offers. It's a higher level and higher competition level. If you're more competitive and want to play varsity high school in the fall, select soccer is the way to go."
Cheryl and Austin Salyers heard the same talking point from his select coach last season.
"His coach last year made an announcement that if the boys don't play club soccer in middle school, they would never have a chance of playing high school or college ball," Cheryl Salyers said. "I know that to be untrue.
"Even though Austin enjoyed playing club, we wanted him to at least try middle school for a year or so. When he gets into high school and club is one session instead of two, maybe we'll reconsider."