Jun. 10—It’s always best to do what’s right. But cutting a check for more than $600 to the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association to make sure some kids could support their friends during a softball game? The right thing shouldn’t be that painful.
Yet, that’s what it came to for former West Scranton baseball coach George “Skip” Roskos this week, after he found out what the privilege of cheering their Invaders softball team past Elizabethtown, 6-2, and into the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class 5A championship tournament at Marywood University was going to cost excited students.
Roskos, who also teaches at West, has been around long enough to know teams like this don’t come around often at the school, where the athletic program has gone quite a long ways between team championships. The run by these Lady Invaders is generating plenty of excitement. They were the underdog in their own district tournament before an emotional and historic win over Abington Heights sent them to states last week, and there’s legitimate hope they can make some more noise at the state level.
When their first state playoff game was scheduled at a pristine venue just a 10-minute drive away from their front doors Monday, that only amped up the interest. The school district decided to allow a half day, so students could get up to Marywood to cheer on the team.
Then, they found out what it was going to cost to get in. The price: $8 per ticket, which really ballooned to $9.51 because tickets had to be purchased online — with a credit card, because all purchases have to be cashless these pandemic-era days — and there was a $1.51 processing fee.
“When we heard the game was at Marywood, we were excited,” Roskos fumed. “But $8 a ticket, for a high school kid? That’s pretty exclusionary.
“A lot of our students can’t afford lunch, and I’d guess that very few have credit cards.”
So, Roskos said, he decided to foot the bill for West students to go to the game. He did so for two reasons: 1.) He knew the game’s significance to the student body, and 2.) because his old mentor and friend Dennis Petillo, a terrific supporter of youth sports in the city’s West side who died in 2010, would have recognized that and dipped into his own pockets to make sure all the students that wanted to be there could be.
They were given a password to give to the PIAA officials working the parking lot. Those officials tallied the number of students who gave the password. And by Monday night, Roskos said he cut a $632 check to the PIAA for those tickets.
A quick look at the PIAA’s ticketing website shows a standard asking price for anybody looking to go to one of these playoff games. To see Wyoming Area, Scranton Prep or Abington Heights in their respective baseball quarterfinals today at DeSales University: $9.51 per game. Want to see Mid Valley face North Schuylkill in the 3A softball tournament at Marywood in the afternoon? $9.51. Riverside baseball fans and Tunkhannock softball fans, same deal.
And guess what? If you wanted to see Radnor face Conestoga in the 3A boys lacrosse playoffs Wednesday: $9.51.
Nobody is suggesting it doesn’t cost a good bit of money to host these tournaments the right way, and the PIAA certainly isn’t getting rich off the backs of teenagers buying softball tickets. The PIAA rents the facilities it uses for these events, and obviously, you want to get the best facilities you can find at a decent rate to make sure the experience is as good as it could possibly be for the athletes. Especially since, for most of them, it will be the highest level at which they’ll ever get to compete. You also have to pay umpires, game officials, parking attendants, maybe even security.
While baseball and softball games might jam in plenty of fans at $8 a pop, maybe those lacrosse games and tennis and volleyball matches don’t. But they still should get the same kind of experience and facilities students playing the higher-revenue sports get, and maybe in those sports, they’re a little bit more expensive. So, one sport helps provide those opportunities for another.
And, I get that.
But does that make it right?
It should be cheaper for students to see their schools play, to cheer on their friends, to get those experiences that make your time in high school special. The PIAA should be more open to that. It also needs to be more sensitive to the fact that Roskos is right: Not all school districts are created equal when it comes to resources and financial backgrounds of students.
Those prices at least should be cut in half for students and parents, even if it means tacking on an extra dollar or two to the cost for the general public to see a playoff game. The bottom line is, you don’t turn more kids on to playing sports by turning them away at the gate, and these events are critical when it comes to building a sense of community that we sorely lack these days.
Today, West Scranton is hoping to load a bus full of students to head to Allentown for their quarterfinal matchup against West Chester East. For them, win or lose, the experience will be fun, memorable and on the expensive side.
Guess here is that, for too many, the last part of that will trump the first two.
That can’t be what the PIAA wants.
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