It's official: District 204 will sponsor lacrosse, parents will pay
Lacrosse in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 will go from independent clubs to district-sponsored sports next year in time for teams to participate in a new state championship series.
But parents of players will have to pay for the entire program, including the cost of equipment, uniforms, coaches, referees, athletic trainers and transportation, school board members decided by a 6-1 vote.
Still, lacrosse players and parents applauded the decision with a standing ovation Monday as they began looking forward to gaining district-sponsored status.
"They're going to be embraced and treated just like any other sport," Louis Lee, assistant superintendent for high schools, said about the roughly 200 lacrosse players on two girls teams and two boys teams representing the district's three high schools. "They will be able to take part in interscholastic play and the state series."
The Illinois High School Association is hosting its first state championship tournament for lacrosse in 2018, which prompted an advocacy group of parents representing the clubs -- one for Neuqua Valley students and another for students from Metea and Waubonsie Valley high schools -- to petition the district to take ownership of the sport.
Monday's decision came in time for the clubs to have district sponsorship and IHSA eligibility next year, Lee said.
So first the district must determine the per-player cost lacrosse parents will have to pay for their sons and daughters to continue in the sport.
Lee estimated it will cost $208,000 to start the program next year and another $128,000 to operate it each year after that. The breakdown per player depends on gender -- boys require more and costlier equipment than girls -- and on the number of players who commit to joining the teams.
Lacrosse players still will be able to fundraise to cover part of the cost if their coaches choose, and they will be eligible for a share of money raised by each school's booster club.
School board members said they had to require parents to pay for lacrosse because the district is in a tight funding situation due to late state payments. Superintendent Karen Sullivan said the state owes District 204 nearly $15.7 million in transportation and special-education money, and without a budget or a new school funding model, officials don't know if or when that money will come through -- let alone what the financial future looks like.
School board member Mike Raczak said if he could find "a penny" within the district's budget to put toward funding lacrosse, he would use it. He didn't want to force the cost onto parents, but said he couldn't stand to see students miss out on playing for their schools. Most other board members said they felt the same way.
"Is it my preference? No," Raczak said about pushing lacrosse costs onto parents. "But it's desperate times, and at this point, we're doing desperate measures."
School board President Lori Price said the board will re-evaluate the funding plan in two years to determine if the district can shoulder all or part of the responsibility. But board member Maria Curry warned lacrosse parents the sport might be cut at that point if the district truly can't pay for it.
Board member Cathy Piehl voted against making parents pay the full cost, which likely will be more than the $400 to $500 girls lacrosse club members pay now and the nearly $1,000 paid for boys. She said it's not right for a public school district to force private payment for one sport while providing taxpayer dollars to support others.
"This alternative funding for public education -- where are we going? How many times are we going to do this," Piehl said. "This is supposed to be public education for all of our kids. If we can't offer the same opportunities and equitable opportunities to all of our kids, I don't see how we could really talk about this at all."
Several board members said they struggled with the inequity of the decision, but wanted their lacrosse athletes to gain the respect and competition abilities that come from representing their schools.
"What I am excited for is that the district will be sponsoring this," board member Mark Rising said. "I'm happy for those kids that will be able to play at the scholastic level."