Monroe Athletic Director Jeff Newcomer had been working on a plan to allow students of all ages to get into Monroe High School varsity events for free. A week ago, that proposal passed at the school board meeting.
This is wonderful news.
Anyone who attended sporting events at MHS in the 1990s can see the night-and-day difference compared to games today — and not just the results on the field.
A generation ago, the football team was a perennial state championship contender. Both basketball teams had years of thriving, as did the baseball, tennis, cross country and track teams.
The entire community banded together for the Cheesemakers. Friday night football games were wall-to-wall packed with bodies, many times double or triple the attendance as the past two decades. The pride in the crimson and white was palpable across the city.
Something changed after the 90s and attendance in the sporting events has dropped off. It wasn’t one thing, it was several.
I don’t have any concrete evidence on actual attendance numbers other than my own experience of attending games as a child in the 90s, as a student in the early 2000s and then as a sports reporter since 2008.
Early on, the blame was put on new extracurriculars taking place at the same time. Then the blame shifted to internet and video games being the main reason students were not showing up to cheer on their classmates. Now it’s social media apps.
While all might have pulled away a couple of kids here or there, noticeably missing from the stands are also adults.
Over the years, the price of going to a single varsity event has risen to the point that for one or two games it might be worth taking the family out, but certainly not every home game, let alone an away game.
A lot of families became more frugal than ever after the recession from a decade ago, and varsity sports attendance was probably one of the items scratched off the list.
Last year, at $5 a person, a family of five would spend $25 to go to a high school basketball or football game. The price is equivalent to minor league baseball in that one game is cheap, but game after game could get grueling. A 22-game home basketball slate between the boys and girls programs could have cost a family more than $500 for the winter season. Throw in concessions, and that number goes higher and higher.
Taking elementary school kids to a high school sporting event does wonders for everyone involved. There is the family bonding, there is the young kids learning the game step by step from watching, there is the young kid becoming mesmerized with the high school athletes — almost idolizing their play. For the athletes on the field of play, the bigger the crowd, the more the adrenaline runs. The bigger the crowd, the noisier it gets. Everything comes together in a perfect story that any game could then see magic happen — memories for everyone who showed up.
With prices the way they were, I fear more and more families on the edge of the financial burden simply decided to stay home. Allowing their elementary and middle school kids in for free allows that experience to potentially thrive again.
My non-scientific math equation states: Bigger crowds + louder gyms = More memories.
High school sports is about just that — making memories. Student-athletes play to make memories with their friends, to compete against their peers from opposing communities, to bask in the awe that sports bring to us. Everyone has at least one moment where they can feel like their professional or college heroes with a key tackle, or a huge block or a basket, hit or touchdown. Occasionally an athlete or two for each team shows they have what it takes to play at the next level, or even the level after that. We as a community hold pride in that player and the program they developed in. In the end, we are all just making memories together. Tearing away anything that might resemble a financial burden and replacing it with a free chance to make a memory, share in a feeling of school spirit and being one with the community is worth every penny lost at the gate.
I commend Jeff and the school board for recognizing that too.
Now, if only we could actually come together for another game.
— Adam Krebs is a 2004 MHS grad and a reporter for the Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.