Changes needed to make playoffs more equitable
Guest Column by Louise Simson
January 9, 2023
Sometimes in your life as a rural school district superintendent, a school system has to take on a lion. California Interscholastic Federation is the lion of high school athletic league play with good intentions. CIF participation increases positive outcomes for children and should be encouraged. We need to provide at-risk students with access to healthy, extra-curricular activities more than any other group. However, there is a CIF policy that disproportionately impacts our low-income kids and needs to be fixed.

I am the superintendent of an extremely poor school system in rural Mendocino County. All of my kids have free and reduced lunch. My district’s unduplicated count is high; we are majority Latinx. My high school soccer team, to my joy, made it to the playoffs, and it was then I saw the inequity caused by mandated playoff fees. My simple gate fee during the regular season games is $5 for adults and $3 for students/seniors. Upon succeeding in moving forward to the playoffs, these fees escalate to a mandated fee of $12 for adults and $5 for kids and seniors, with a requirement of a credit card purchase with an additional ticketing fee.
When I protested to CIF that this was not feasible for my district’s population, many of whom did not possess a credit card or even have access to the internet, CIF accommodated us to provide a cash gate. But that still doesn’t fundamentally address another equity issue affecting many districts across California.
I have great concerns about the equity of the current system. Two parents and two children attending a playoff game would pay $34 for tickets, plus any credit card fees. What is prohibitively expensive is subjective, but to my families, this is an economic hardship, as it amounts to more than two hours of gross wages for a minimum wage earner to exercise their right to support and enjoy their child’s participation in making it to the playoffs. Sometimes, the cost for low-income families to attend their students’ events is impossible to pay, when balanced against other family priorities like food and bills.
I want to acknowledge that CIF has stated informally to me that no families should be prevented from attending games due to cost. I want to propose the following solutions.
Away games: When parents/guardians attend away games, we need to be assured that CIF offices will arrange a way for them to attend. We need some assurance that a cash payment option is available at all games. We should not have to front that cost on a school district credit card. We also need to ensure that cash-paying parents from visiting teams will be able to purchase tickets at the door, as oftentimes parents making credit card reservations can lead to a sold-out activity.
Cost of playoff tickets: The significant cost disparity between my regular season games and the playoff games may not seem disproportionate to a family that makes a good living. I assure the CIF, for families who attend districts such as mine, many of whom are minimum wage workers at $15 an hour, this is a significant barrier that impacts their students’ education and their participation in their students’ important extracurricular events.
My suggestion moving forward is that the league and CIF look at implementing a fee structure that is based on percentage of free and reduced lunch or Title I eligibility for schools. Yes, that would mean a two-tiered structure in the league. Is that fair and proportionate? I assure you it is. This is the difference between “equal” and “equitable.” CIF is well-intentioned, and I do not believe it wants to adopt policies or rules that are exclusionary. I am not saying these decisions were made out of malice or designed to exclude anyone. People with privilege voting on these fees and credit card arrangements likely do not even see how this is a barrier.
I grew up with not a lot of money. My parents attended my extracurriculars and celebrated my success. All parents/guardians deserve to do that. Unreasonable fees are a barrier in a public education extra-curricular setting. We need to remove that. Let’s find a solution that is equitable for all school systems, not just the wealthy ones. What we are doing right now is wrong.
There is power in reflection and collaboration. Let’s fix this for all students and their families.
Louise Simson is superintendent of Anderson Valley Unified School District.
The Anderson Valley Panthers won the North Coast Section, Division 3 Boys Fall Soccer Championship in November.
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