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Pay Now or Pay Later

Stunned does not come close to describe how I felt during my first Parents Meeting 17 years ago.

Tryouts had been held, teams assembled and Becky was on her way to becoming an All Star.

I could manage the $80 monthly tuition, the $160 not-required-but-highly-recommended warm-up suit and the $100 uniform deposit. An old Personal Activity Account or PAA I found from July 2001 shows that by that first month in the season, I had already sold $144 worth of raffle tickets (something that would become a right of cheerleading conducted every year since).

But that night I clearly remember leaving the gym thinking “What have I gotten myself into?”

The total cost for uniform was $309: $63 for skirt, $100 for vest, $42 for Nike cheer shoes, $18 for bodysuit, $10 for briefs, $16 for socks, $10 for bow, $20 for curly wiglet and $30 for makeup kit.

A lot of that seems unnecessary to me now, although a new uniform this year cost $325, not counting $80 for and Nfinity shoes. We don’t buy $16 socks, our gym prefers the girls wear “no shows” of their own liking. Tuition is $105 if you pay before the 5th of each month.

Considering the prices haven’t changed that much in ten years tells me that our old gym was overcharging or our present gym is doing really well in keeping costs down. Either way, my father told me the other day that he thought $325 was “an awful lot to pay for a sweater and skirt” (his idea of what a cheerleading uniform is).

But it was the travel and comp fees that knocked me for a loop that night. I don’t know what I expected competitive cheerleading to be, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t expect to pay a comp fee every time she competed (never mind the admission fees for spectators, “Now I have to pay to watch her cheer?!?“). I later became a Team Parent and back then we entered at the “Team Entrance” and didn’t have to pay an admission fee but the reality of how much time spent away from the rest of the family would “cost” was another matter entirely.

My (then) husband was in construction and I was a reporter, we had a young family of three children and were getting by, barely as I recall. Where was I going to come up with an extra $300 a month for these fees? Jimmy was already complaining about the gas and wear and tear on the car for the 25 minute drive to and from practices three days a week. He wasn’t going to like this new information.

So we participated in every fundraiser available; selling candy bars, canning, raffle tickets, bread baking kits, candles, wrapping paper, more raffle tickets, dips and other gourmet food sales, and still more raffle tickets. We made $76 here and $42 there and somehow made it through that first year.

That first year, the largest tournament Becky’s gym attended was a 6-hour drive to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania and the PAA shows I paid $300 before travel, hotel and other costs. I don’t know what I would have said if there was air fare required to fly to comps in other parts of the country, but after calming down and a good night’s rest, I know I would have found the money somehow.

Because I believed then, as I do now, when it comes to kids: Pay Now or Pay Later.

During my career, I’ve interviewed “street kids” who have no structure, guidance or support from family. Their grandparents, parents and soon-to-be-themselves are caught in a vicious cycle of alcohol, drugs and welfare. That’s all they know so it feels right to them. They don’t know what they don’t know. They’ve never been exposed to everything this great big world has to offer because the world to them is a few-mile radius from the Section 8 apartment they are living in.

Although I was sure that wouldn’t be my child’s future, I couldn’t guarantee it. One of my brothers, from a “good,” middle class family in the suburbs, was smart but bored and uninterested in school, sports or any other activities. To amuse himself, he started drinking and using drugs when he was 12 and never stopped.

If you think All Stars (or any sport or childhood activity for that matter), is expensive, look into how much court fines, lawyers fees, rehab and hospitalizations cost.

I knew as a sister watching her brother disappear into someone she didn’t recognize, that you couldn’t wait until a child was an adolescent to get them started in activities. As a parent I know they need to be passionate and involved in something long before they hit their teens. Because by the time you realize that something is amiss, it’s too late.

Instead of growing distant, Becky and I spent many, many hours of quality time together during those drives to and from practices and competitions. Her friends can’t believe the things she tells me and I consider her my best friend. I hope we would have had this kind of relationship had we not shared this journey called All Stars, but I can’t say for sure that we would.

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