Economy hurts youth leagues

Published 10:01 pm Friday, July 10, 2009

Chalk up yet another victim of our country’s economic recession.

Several local youth football and cheerleading programs have seen their numbers decline, and program officials said the economy is to blame.

“This year has really been a slow year,” said Michael Smitherman, president of the Clanton Tiger Blue league. “We’re going to try to help out a few of the people that have been with us for a while, but even our sponsorships are less than they have been, so it’s hard to do that. Times are pretty rough for a lot of people right now.”

And cutting expenses on their children’s athletic endeavors makes sense to a lot of people because, as Thorsby park director Crystal Smith pointed out, participation costs even more than the registration fee, which can range from $50 to $150.

“They have to get out and travel to all these games…you have to pay admission to get in,” Smith said. “It can be a lot of money.”

In an effort to offset a potential decrease in participation, Smith said Thorsby added three additional registration dates and even featured a registration fee that was about $30 less than last year.

Even so, 23 girls in the four age groups combined signed up to cheer, compared to previous years that saw an average of about 20 in each age group. Only one girl signed up in the 11- and 12-year-old group.

Through three sessions, 25 football players and cheerleaders have signed up to participate in the Clanton Tiger Blue league, which had about 115 participants last year. Smitherman said three more registration sessions will be held.

“A lot of people wait until the last minute, but we’re way behind,” he said.

Not every league has seen such a drop off. Isabella’s youth league is on pace to equal last year’s number of participants. League secretary Michelle Armstrong said league officials anticipated a potential participation decrease.

“We’ve always felt like we’ve done a good job keeping our fees low,” Armstrong said. “We charge $60 when a lot of people are charging over $100, and we offered an early bird special of $10 off for people that signed up on the first day.

“We would have gone up on our fees, but we thought that wouldn’t be a good idea this year.”

Marc Hodges, director of the Upward flag football and cheerleading program at Victory Baptist Church, said as many participants signed up as last year, the program’s first.

“We were hoping to grow a little bit, but [the numbers] were about the same,” Hodges said. “Our goal going into the season was to have as many as we had last year.”