If you want to play, you just might have to pay.
That's what the Hillsborough County School District will consider in a pilot program where those who want to play a sport not now offered – such as lacrosse – may have to foot the bill for the costs.
That's not the case for the 21 sports offered now by the district, where athletes have to pay just for insurance costs, as little as $20 in some cases. Students don't have to cough up cash for uniforms, equipment, travel expenses or referees.
But in an era of declining revenues and increased demand for athletic opportunities, school officials are looking at creative ways to fund new sports.
"It puts most of the burden on the group that says, 'We want to do this,'" school board chairwoman Candy Olson said Tuesday at a workshop on the issue.
"We're not in an economic position to assume the costs," board member Carol Kurdell said.
The price tags are substantial.
It would cost the school district more than $22,000 per school – more than $600,000 for the entire district – to establish lacrosse as a sport. That would pay for uniforms and equipment for 25 girls and 25 boys at each of the county's 27 high schools.
That does not include the estimated $8,300 per season, per school for annual operating costs. That includes things such as transportation, referees and security. The district total annually for all high schools would be nearly a quarter-million dollars.
"I'm not sure how we could fund those fees," said Lanness Robinson, director of athletics for Hillsborough schools. "That would be challenging for us as a district."
Luckily for the school district, there doesn't appear to be great interest in lacrosse at all 27 high schools.
According to information from a 2011 survey by a local lacrosse association, only eight schools are interested in adding the sport for boys and girls. Those schools are Alonso, Durant, Freedom, Newsome, Plant, Robinson, Steinbrenner and Wharton.
Hillsborough school officials are looking south to Lee County, where the district has an agreement with the local lacrosse alliance to fund teams at five high schools. They are hoping Tampa-based lacrosse groups, who have besieged them with emails asking for lacrosse to be added as a varsity sport, will step forward and help pay the cost.
That doesn't appear to be out of the question, said Stephen Casselli, who has three children who in the sport – one in middle school, one in high school and one in college.
The South Tampa Sticks Youth Lacrosse League pays $1,400 a night to play club lacrosse at Plant High School, Casselli said.
"We've been doing it for almost 10 years now," he said.
As for paying to play in the local school district, even if it meant paying scholarships for players who can't afford it: "We don't have a problem with it," Casselli said. "We understand the economic of the school district's situation. Their budgets are being cut severely."
School board members think having lacrosse as a sport would open the doors for their students to gain even more athletic scholarships to college.
"I'm not a farm team for college, whatever the sport is," Kurdell said. "But lacrosse is a big deal in scholarships for women."
Board members had many questions on the topic of adding lacrosse as a sport at just select schools.
They wonder whether it should be tied to school choice, where certain academic programs are offered only at certain schools. They fretted over "Gucci model" teams that would square off against "Wal-Mart model" teams.
They wondered how to get the sport in inner-city schools as well, and how to pay the costs for poorer students no matter what school they attend.
No matter what the district decides in the coming months, Robinson does not want to see a repeat of what happened with soccer decades ago.
That's when the Tampa Bay Rowdies and a corporate entity talked of providing funding for getting soccer going in local schools.
"We didn't get one penny," Robinson said.
It remains unclear whether the district will be able to get answers soon enough to field teams for next school year.
BY THE NUMBERS
21 – Sports offered at 27 Hillsborough high schools
$86,000 – Average total athletics expense per school
4 – Schools that made more on sports than they spent last year
$44,000 – Average deficit at nine schools with high poverty
$27,000 – Average deficit at remaining 14 schools
$610,200 – Cost of establishing lacrosse at all 27 high schools
$224,000 – Annual operating costs for lacrosse at those schools
Source: Hillsborough County School District