October 22, 2019

Kid's Extracurricular Activities

Cost v. benefits
By Craig Manning | Oct. 13, 2018

The school year is now in high gear, and with it, an all-new season of extracurricular sports and activities is underway. Like most communities, northern Michigan has lots of options, both school-affiliated and independent, to keep kids involved, active, and challenged. To get a better sense of what’s available — and how several popular activities vary in terms of cost, time commitment, challenges, and benefits — we reached out to coaches and mentors running six different extracurricular programs. To keep the comparisons consistent and as objective as possible, we focused on a fairly narrow area of the region and the high school age range. (Keep in mind: Most of these activities are available, in some form, to younger participants as well.) Here’s what we learned.
 
SOCCER
The Organization
TBAYS, or Traverse Bay Area Youth Soccer, is an organization that offers club soccer to juniors (ages 4-7), youth (ages 7-12), and North Storm (10-18).
 
The Cost
North Storm coach Jason Smith says that soccer programs for high school players start at a base rate of roughly $600 per year, which covers jerseys, practices, coaching fees, and tournament registration for one season of club soccer. Travel costs add between $600 and $1,200, depending on the skill level of the players. Smith says that the variation in cost is due to the fact that most competitive club soccer in the state of Michigan is clustered around the Detroit area — leading to more away games, more downstate travel, more nights in hotels, and more meals on the road.
 
The Time Commitment
North Storm players have three 90-minute training sessions a week, as well as one or two games. Again, total time commitment is contigent upon travel, as higher levels of competition demand more time on the road. According to Smith, teams play eight to 9nine games per season, and at least half of those are downstate for older and higher-level teams. Seasons last about three and a half months, with high school boys playing in the spring and high school girls playing in the fall. For school-affiliated soccer, the seasons are flipped, enabling athletes to play both club soccer with TBAYS and school soccer with their districts. On top of season obligations, athletes also have the option of participating in a variety of soccer camps throughout the year, each of which focuses on building a different skill or proficiency.
 
The Biggest Challenge
Smith says that travel and time commitment make competitive club soccer a major commitment and a scheduling puzzle for athletes and their families. “The proximity of northern Michigan to where a lot of competitive soccer is played is one of our largest challenges,” he said. “There are not a ton of competitive soccer clubs between Traverse City and Detroit. There are probably 15 max. So that means a lot of our games are played down in the Detroit area, especially as kids get better and more competitive. I think the travel element for competitive teams is definitely something that makes it difficult to schedule.”
 
The Biggest Reward
For Smith, the sheer level of physical fitness that athletes can achieve through playing soccer is virtually unrivaled. “Soccer is one of the few sports that is multi-dimensional when it comes to development,” he said. “It touches on hand-eye coordination, it touches on foot dexterity, it touches on cardiovascular development, and all these other different key development factors within athletes. It’s more of a free-flowing game with limited stoppages, versus basketball or football or golf. It’s continuous play. And soccer games are also considerably longer than football games or basketball games. One half of a soccer match is the length of an entire basketball game.”
 
ROWING
The Organization
TC Tritons Rowing partners with the Learning, Enrichment & Athletics Program (LEAP) through Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) to offer recreational rowing for middle school students and competitive rowing for high school students. Parents can get involved too: Tritons Rowing hosts a “parents learn to row” day once per season and is affiliated with the Traverse Area Community Rowing (TACR). That’s a convenient and fun bonus: Parents who decide to start rowing competitively with TACR can often compete in races at the same regattas where their kids are competing.
 
The Cost
According to Chris Bott, head coach for Tritons Rowing, the cost-per-season for rowers rangers from $385 to $725. The variable is whether rowers and their families decide to participate in the fundraising opportunities the program offers or write a check to cover the full cost. These fees cover all expenses, including boats, safety equipment, stipends for coaches, and travel to regattas (including transportation, hotel costs, meals, and race registration fees). Bott says that Tritons Rowing is actually on the lower end for rowing programs in the state of Michigan, which typically cost between $475 and $750 for a season.
 
The Time Commitment
Bott says the main time commitment for rowers is 12 hours of practice a week (during the spring and fall seasons) and 10 hours a week during the summer season. In the fall and spring, those practices occur from 5pm to 7:30pm Monday through Thursday, as well as every Saturday from 8am to 10am. In the summer, practices are 7am to 9am Monday through Friday. The program also schedules three regattas per season, which vary in travel time based on whether the competition location is close (Grand Rapids) or far (Cleveland or Toledo). Usually, regattas involve a Friday and Saturday commitment, between travel and competition. The optional fundraising opportunities can also add between three and eight hours of commitment each season.
 
The Biggest Challenge
For Bott, the biggest challenge of rowing is obvious: the amount of physical exertion the activity involves. While races are usually eight minutes or less, Bott says studies have shown that the body goes through the same amount of physiological exertion in those eight minutes as it would over the course of two full basketball games played back to back without breaks or timeouts. Since rowers typically have two or three races per regatta, they tend to give a lot of themselves over the course of a competition day. “Rowing is a complete head-to-toe sport,” Bott said. “You are going to use every major muscle group in the body, combined with intense physical endurance. The better you are at it, the more effortless you make it look. But the more effortless it looks, the harder you’re actually working.”
 
The Biggest Benefit
“The level of self-discipline and self-determination taught through this sport is incredible,” Bott said. “Some of the local businesses would tell you that they absolutely love hiring rowers in the summer because they never have harder-working employees. We also hear from some of our rowers who are in college now that rowing taught them the self-discipline they needed to be able to handle the college workload and handle it efficiently, where some of their other friends are struggling with it now.”
 
According to Bott, rowing can also help kids getto college. He says the opportunities for scholarships in this sport are huge, and that five Tritons rowers have gone to school with scholarships or grants in the short time that the program has existed. In addition, five current juniors or seniors with the program are being actively recruited by college rowing programs.
 
DANCE
The Organization
Dance Arts Academy (pictured) has been operating in Traverse City for 20 years. The owners and instructors, Betsy Carr and Sue Buck, have a combined 60-plus years of dance experience between them. The program works with dancers of all ages and skill levels to help them reach their goals.
 
The Cost
Co-owner Carr says that estimating cost for a semester of dance can be a challenge, given that so much depends on the dancer’s level of skill and overall time commitment. The Academy offers a wide range of different dance classes, ranging from ballet to tap to musical theater. Each course lasts for a 16-week semester and has its own tuition rate, typically falling between $169 and $236. These rates cover class instruction. Costumes are extra, usually adding between $50 and $90. Dancers with the Academy’s “Senior Fusion” program, which meets two nights a week and travels to one competition, can participate for approximately $500 annually.
 
Carr says that Dance Arts Academy has never, on the basis of ability to pay, turned away a dancer who wanted to train there. The program offers numerous work-study and scholarship opportunities designed to make classes more affordable for families.
 
The Time Commitment
According to Carr, high school dancers who will end up going on to dance at either the professional level or the college level do 2.5 hours of training, five days a week. In total, opportunities are available with Dance Arts Academy for kids to dance up to four hours a day, six days a week. Performances and occasional competitions add weekend time. For instance, the Academy is currently preparing for a Christmastime production of “The Nutcracker” — a show it always mounts in even-numbered years. High school dancers rehearse two extra hours on the weekends for the show and are involved in all six performances, which will run from December 13–16this year.
 
The Biggest Challenge
The time commitment for dance is substantial. Where most extracurricular activities offer season breaks or only occur during one part of the year, Carr describes dance as “a constant thing.” The most dedicated dancers — the ones that will likely end up going on to dance in college or as a career — might take a week off here and there, but are otherwise fully engaged year-round. It takes discipline and dedication, Carr says, for dancers to stay focused on their goals and commit to hours of after-school training or dance intensives in the summertime when all their friends are at the beach.
 
The Biggest Benefit
For Carr, the greatest thing about dance is that it is a true lifelong passion. “As someone that has been involved in the dance world for 54 years — and still loving it with my whole heart — I see the benefits of dance training every day,” she said. “I feel it is the best gift, as it provides grace, coordination, strength, confidence, discipline, self-esteem, and is both physical andartistic. At Dance Arts Academy, we have students as young as 18 months, and as old as 80, and that is pretty awesome to see every week.”
 
HOCKEY
The Organizations
The varsity hockey teams at both TCAPS high schools have long histories of success. The Traverse City Central High School team won the Big North Conference title six years in a row, from the 2011/12 season to the 2016/17 season. Traverse City West Senior High won the title in 2017/18.
 
The Cost
Both Jeremy Rintala, head hockey coach at TC West, and Chris Givens, head hockey coach at TC Central, say that the big cost for hockey players is equipment. Players provide most of their own equipment, including skates, sticks, helmets, gloves, pants, and pads. Rintala says that TCAPS offers some of these items for free, including helmets and gloves, but that players typically buy their own to keep. Both schools provide uniforms, including jerseys, and cover most expenses for ice time and travel. Hockey equipment can get expensive, especially when competition is the goal. For instance, the website NewToHockey.com says that high-end skates for competitive players will typically range from $400 to $800.

The Time Commitment
Both TCAPS hockey programs practice daily, usually hitting four to six hours of practice per week in season (which runs November to March). At West, those practices happen after school, while Central’s team practices in the morning before school. On top of practices, high school teams play two to three games per week, some of which involve travel, which adds extra time. Rintala says his players also sometimes come in before school for strength and conditioning, and that many join club or tournament teams in the offseason to stay sharp.
 
The Challenges
For Givens and the Central High School hockey team, the biggest hurdle is the early morning practice schedule. Daily practice times for the team run from 6am to 7am every morning before school. For parents of players who don’t have driver’s licenses or cars yet, this schedule can be a strain. For Rintala, the hardest part is the limited number of spots available on the high school team. TCAPS does not offer JV hockey, which means that not all kids get to play. For some families, who have put years of time, effort, and money into supporting their kids in youth hockey leagues, having a player miss the cut for the varsity team can be genuinely heartbreaking.
 
The Benefits
Rintala says there is much to be gained from the physical fitness and mental determination necessary to find success out on the ice. He also thinks that hockey builds huge levels of passion and dedication, which can help students flourish in many aspects of their academic and professional lives. “As a high school hockey coach, I am fortunate that most of the players that try out for my team have been playing hockey for many years before high school,” he said. “They have already decided that it is something that they love and want to continue to play, or they wouldn't be trying out.”
 
THEATER
The Activity
Theater opportunities abound at TCAPS high schools, which both offer theater classes and annual extracurricular musical theater productions.
 
The Costs
Theater tends to be one of the least expensive extracurricular activities for students and their families. According to Minda Nyquist, a theater and stagecraft teacher at Traverse City West Senior High, the biggest costs pertain to the rights of the productions that classes or casts perform. Performance rights for newer plays or musicals cost more than those for older shows. Shakespeare plays, for instance, don’t cost anything for schools to perform. If there are performance rights costs, they are typically absorbed by the schools themselves and are not passed on to the students. Students are more likely to see costs for things like costumes, props, and makeup, but even those expenses are modest and depend on the production.
 
The Time Commitment
Theater classes rehearse daily in class and then add weekend rehearsals. Nyquist says that her casts usually come in after school for additional rehearsals and on Saturdays from 10am to 3pm to build sets, props, and costumes. Add in the actual performances, and she calculates the time commitment of theater at more than 150 hours per semester. TCAPS musical productions are similarly intense, involving rehearsals most days after school and frequent all-day Saturday rehearsals.
 
The Biggest Challenge
Both Nyquist and Katie Polius, a theater teacher at Traverse City Central High School, cite the time commitment of preparing a professional-level theatrical production as one of the biggest challenges of the activity. Polius also thinks that it can be nerve racking for students to “put themselves out in the public sphere,” especially if they are participating in theater for the first time.
 
The Biggest Benefit
Polius believes that the opportunities for bonding and belonging in theater make it unique from most other extracurricular activities. “Theater creates a home or community for students from all backgrounds,” she said. “They are able to reflect inwardly through their outward performances and find a community of other like-minded individuals, both onstage and behind the scenes.”
 
TENNIS
The Organization
The Traverse City Central High School tennis program, which coach Shane Dilloway inherited from Larry Nykerk — the winningest high school tennis coach in Michigan history.
 
The Cost
Players pay a flat fee of $200, which covers weight room fees, tennis balls, water and Gatorade for matches, one shirt and T-shirt per player, and some travel expenses. In addition, players or their families pay $25 per hotel stay for overnight trips, which usually happen once or twice a season for JV players and four or five times a season for varsity players. Uniforms are $50 for JV but are the major expense for varsity players, totaling $300 or $400 each season. Varsity parents also pay one of the program’s moms to pack lunches for travel tournaments, a $100 expense for the whole season. Players are expected to provide their own tennis rackets.
 
The Time Commitment
Dilloaway says that varsity team members typically compete two or three days a week, including one all-day weekend tournament. The tournaments usually involve departing school mid-day on Friday, traveling downstate, and then playing throughout the day on Saturday. The other two matches are more minor conference play, with home and away matches against schools like Cadillac, Alpena, and Petoskey. On non-match days, teams practice after school for about two hours. In total, Dilloway estimates that the average week will include six hours of practice, eight hours of tournament play, and another match or event that lasts around two or three hours. Travel can add several hours to this equation, depending on where the tournaments or events are hosted.
 
The Biggest Challenge
Dilloaway says that the time commitment of tennis — and balancing that commitment with academics, jobs, social lives, and other activities — is a challenge for some players. The challenge is doubled for boys tennis players, who started tryouts this year on Aug. 8. “Kids were still in summer mode,” Dilloway said. “They still had their summer jobs. Their families were still taking vacations.” Transitioning from summer mode into a competitive mindset for the tennis commitment was a tough adjustment for some. Achieving that commitment and focus, meanwhile, is crucial for success in the sport. Dilloway says that, if a player is distracted or not engaged during a practice, it essentially becomes a wasted practice for them, which can in turn affect their teammates.
 
The Biggest Benefit
Dilloway says that tennis teaches accountability and honesty in a way that is different from most other sports. “Tennis is supposed to be a ‘sport of gentlemen,’” he said. “Until you get to regionals and state finals, there aren’t any referees or umpires. It’s just the coaches and the players, and we regulate it by ourselves. So, the sport relies a lot on honesty and integrity and making the right call when no one is there to check you, giving your opponent the benefit of the doubt when you’re not sure if the ball fell in or out. Those kinds of things are pretty cool, because these kids are learning about consequences and fairness and about always doing the right thing.”

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