High School Sports

Are travel sports too much?

Is the cost and time worth the reward? Coaches, parents and players weigh in.

ROCHESTER - "My parents have paid probably two legs and three arms," laughed junior McQuaid Zach Lee. 

Welcome to the world of travel sports, a multi- billion dollar industry,that has families diving deep into their pockets to be on an exclusive team.

Parents are paying up to $2,500 to be a part of some organizations, and that doesn't even include equipment, hotel fees, and food for the numerous weekend tournaments.

"This isn't just a few months out of the year, this is all year," said Tracy Mills who has a daughter who plays softball four to five days a week.

Even when they are not playing with the team, they're fundraising with car washes, pancake breakfasts or bake sales to find ways to lower the cost.

Mills says her daughter's softball team is only around $400 for the season, adding that if they fundraise enough, parents get money back at the end of the year.

The cost is not the only concern for parents when signing their kids up for travel sports.

It's also not uncommon for kids to miss school on Fridays because they are playing in tournaments out of state.

"There are weekends where I get text from my friends, 'hang out here" then there are other nights when you get back from who knows where at 10:30 at night and you have three tests on Monday, It's just part of the lifestyle,'' added Lee.

That is travel sports in a nutshell, a 'lifestyle.'

As a player, your teammates become your best friends. As a parent, the other parents on the team become your best friends and family time turns into an early morning car ride to practice.

Now imagine if you have two kids, playing on two different travel teams, playing in two different tournaments in two different cities.

As the dollar signs pile up, so does the headache of which parent goes where.

This is where families help out other families.

"I use to get in the car with my friend and his family and go to Cananda for tournaments all the time because my parents were busy or couldn't make it," said Pittsford hockey head coach Steve Thering.

That's where some of the fear and stigma of travel sports comes from. Some believe it's simply too much. Too much money, too much travel and too many sacrifices for kids and their parents.

"I think you miss a lot of life, friendships, high school by traveling up and down the thruway with your parents all the time trying to chase a dream,'' said RIT Men's hockey coach Wayne Wilson.

Wilson added the main purpose of playing sports growing up should be to have fun. 

Thering agrees saying, "It gets to that point where you gotta be here, you gotta be here and the kids can't be kids."

Times have changed in the world of youth sports. Ten years ago there may have been one or two travel teams in a town, now there are dozens, making them the new standard.

More teams have allowed more kids get to experience the travel sports but, that has added to stress for both parents and kids.

Thering looks at the world of professional sports and now sees the similarities at the youth level.

"You look at the NBA, or MLB, or NHL, nobody stays on the same team anymore. Everyone bounces around and now that happens with teenagers. Kids are switching teams every year for a bunch of different reasons instead of staying on one team and developing relationship and teamwork skills," added Thering.

"Everything evolves. It use to be Little League, Little League, Little League. Now it's Little League and travel sports," added Matt Dryer of Diamond Pro Baseball.

Despite the high price tag, hectic schedules and trading in family vacations at Disney Land for cold weekend in Canada or a lawn chair at a softball field, most parents and players say it's worth it..

"It's a stretch for some families financial but it's also adding a lot to their lives," says Dryer

You make sacrifices but what they get out of it, what they enjoy, the friends, the experience," said Jeff Veerkamp, who's son plays for Diamond Pro.

"I was just so happy that I was doing it, I didn't think about it that much. I'm sure my parents did but I was just focused on playing hockey," smiled McQuaid senior James Merkley.

Nearly every parent News 8 spoke to said they don't even think about the cost but, they may start to in the future. That's because this industry shows no sign of slowing down.

Matt Dryer said the fees for these travel tournaments is increasing up to 20-25 percent every year.


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