Monday, June 09, 2008
When gas reached the $3 per gallon mark, a local ad for our county bus system showed a father at a gas station doubling as a pawn shop. He was looking to buy a few gallons of gas through the trade of his wife's wedding ring, a Waterford vase, even his youngest child, to which the owner says, "Now that's just sad." Then on the Today show this week they had a segment on people pawning their possessions to get enough money to buy gas. So fiction has become fact, which in this case is just sad!
The reality now exists that youth soccer as we know it may have to adjust if even middle class families are going to survive the year-round training and the travel involved. Recently I was at the State Championship in Appleton, Wisconsin and listened as people on the sidelines moaned about the cost of coming up to Appleton from Milwaukee and Madison for the weekend. The distance was only a concern as to how it affected the cost of travel. We had just gone to $4.19 a gallon in Milwaukee, so I can see everyone's point. The state association kindly adjusted my son's U19 bracket so that the teams had to come up just one day in order to save on gas.
My other son is in the US Soccer Federation Developmental Academy and travel should be their middle name. He traveled one day down to Bradenton, Florida to play the National Team and next week he will travel to Champaign, Illinois for one game. The days of $150 airfares to Florida are long gone, so the Bradenton trip cost around $450. Champaign is 250 miles away, so it will be nearly two tanks of gas at $65 a tank for that one game. I'm not sure when I reached the point of measuring my soccer expenses by the tank, but it had to be about the time I crossed the $50 threshold for a tank of gas. I'm now past the $60 threshold and I'm told to prepare for the $70 threshold.
I've always leaned more to the "green" side of life. I'm product of Haight-Ashbury, flower power and Boones Ferry wine, so count me on the liberal side of the fence. But I never really put much thought into what it cost to drive to a tournament or a game until the last six months, and now it seems to obsess me. Today Robbie suggested going to a western suburb to meet his friend for lunch, come home and then drive back out there to pick her up from school and go to her tennis match. Six months ago, I would have just nodded and said, "Okay." This morning I gasped and said, "No way!" So he's sitting in the school library reading magazines for two hours until it's time to pick her up.
I've talked about my van and its innumerable problems, but now it is losing gas mileage, down from 27 on the freeway to 21 on the freeway. That fact alone may force me into debt I can't afford just to get a car with 30 MPG on the freeway. I figure if gas prices keep rising, the car will pay for itself with the savings.
I'm nearing the end of my soccer travels on a regular basis. I'll certainly be driving to see my grandkids play soccer, baseball, football or gymnastics. But it will have the extra pleasure of being combined with a visit and time to just enjoy the kids. I really do think about those of you who are just embarking on the journey. Suddenly travel team seriously equates big bucks. I have limited disposable income, but I'm lucky to have any. Many soccer families don't have that luxury, so traveling to games means sacrifice and even going into debt. That's not what sports should be about.
I encourage clubs, state organizations and national organizations to begin to take into account the cost of traveling just to games, not to mention regional league, tournaments, and showcases. While each event may not seem to be a budget buster, organizers need to remember that players and families aren't just going to one event. Even at the youngest ages games can be a great distance away if the league is geographically large. Add one tournament each season and you have the makings of a chunk of change. Hopefully organizers and schedulers will look for ways to minimize travel by clustering league teams, adjusting tournament schedules to make the best use of time and distance for participants, and being sensitive to the issues of travel costs. Organizers will counter that the difficulty is in finding the right mix of competitiveness and an already overburdened and complex scheduling system. Hopefully some middle ground can be found that addresses and helps mitigate expenses for families, especially those just starting to play. We don't want to scare people off or have them make a decision about soccer based solely on economics.
While I won't even go into global warming, because that has a whole horse cart of political baggage, I will point out that gas isn't going to suddenly multiply and have prices plummet. We are probably stuck in this ever upwardly spiraling price corkscrew into our lives. So we have to get creative in solving the money problem. Wherever possible, carpool to soccer practice, games and tournaments. Clubs might seek out alternate practice sites in different parts of town and rotate among these so that certain families aren't always stuck with the long journey to the fields. With a bit of creative effort, we can probably help most families lop off 20 percent from their soccer travel expenses. And that's money in the bank rather than the tank.
Starting next week, I will be bloggin from Rockford, Illinois at the US Youth Soccer Region II Championships.