Participation in fall athletics in Harford County Public Schools has declined by 99 students, or about 3.1 percent, from last year, although school officials cite a few possible factors for the drop besides a controversial "pay to play" fee that was approved by the school board.
Students who are a member of their team's roster must pay a $50 per-sport fee to play interscholastic sports, or be approved for a waiver, if they qualify for Free and Reduced Meals, or are children of a teacher or have a parent in the active-duty military.
Board members instituted the sports fee and a $25 per extracurricular activity fee to help raise revenue for a school system which has been working to meet growing operating expenses and a refusal by the county's elected officials to add millions of dollars in revenue requested by the board in its past few budgets.
According to figures provided by, the school system, 3,053 high school students are taking part in varsity and JV sports this year, compared to 3,152 in the fall of 2012, a difference of 99 student athletes.
Teri Kranefeld, HCPS Manager of Communications, said last week that all athletes who were on final fall rosters have either paid their fees or been approved for the waivers.
Student athletes are taking part in cheer, cross country, field hockey, varsity and JV football, golf, boys' and girls' soccer and boys' and girls' volleyball.
Kranefeld noted in an e-mail last week that two schools are not fielding boys volleyball teams this year.
"However, those numbers were low last year, so not having teams this [year] was not a surprise," she wrote.
Kranefeld also stated high school enrollment numbers have declined "slightly" from last year and that academic eligibility to play sports could also have been an issue for some students.
The school system had 11,700 students enrolled in high school grades last fall. Official figures for this school year will not be made public until sometime next month.
According to HCPS policy, a student is considered ineligible to participate in athletics if he or she "has received a failing grade in any subject on a quarterly report card or the student has received a failing grade in any subject as a final grade" or "the student is not able to meet graduation requirements within the normal four year program."
A chart provided by Kranefeld, which breaks down the number of athletes per team and per school, showed Edgewood High School and Joppatowne High School do not have boys volleyball teams this year.
Parents cite disparities
Julie Lepp, of Bel Air, whose son is a freshman at C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air, paid the $50 fee for her son to play on the volleyball squad this fall.
She was not, however, happy about it.
"Of course I paid for him, because if I took a stand and said, 'I'm not going to pay that,' they're not going to let him play," Lepp explained in a recent interview.
Lepp also expressed concerns about participation at schools in low-income parts of the county.
"Honestly, I really can't understand the school board's thinking in this, because it really is creating an environment of haves and have nots," she said.
Lepp also has a child at Southampton Middle School and another at Bel Air Elementary School.
Children attending Bel Air Elementary, and their families, have had to deal with their school being placed on a fourth-tier bus schedule, with later start and end times.
Parents have taken issue with the schedule change, part of an effort by the school board to consolidate bus routes and shift schedules to save transportation dollars, because of the impact to their family schedules.
"I have not been happy with any decision the board has made," Lepp said.
Teachers are the only school system employees whose children are eligible for waivers from paying the athletic and activity fees. Harford's school system has about 5,400, of which approximately 2,900 are classroom teachers and another 200 are counselors represented by the same union.
Supporters of other school employees on the lower end of the salary scale, such as clerical workers, inclusion helpers and cafeteria workers, have petitioned the school board to make children of all school system employees eligible for waivers.
Tim Thomas, of Forest Hill, is working to obtain his master's degree to become a teacher; his wife is a cafeteria worker, and he spoke during a Sept. 23 school board meeting, flanked by several Forest Lakes Elementary School cafeteria workers.
He said it was "discriminatory" for children of some employees to be exempt and children of other employees to not be.
"If you're going to do it, do it across the board, raise a lot more money, save more jobs or let's exempt all the employees all together," Thomas said.
Parents should visit the school system's website, http://www.hcps.org, for more information on the fees and to pay them.