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The LEAP Student Blog

'Small School Athletic Success and the Price Paid,' by Kate Schneider, Freeman HS
 4/17/2023 12:00:00 AM

Kate Schneider
Freeman HS, Class of 2024

The highest achievement for any high school athlete in Washington State is competing in a WIAA State Championship. This coveted experience is one only few are able to achieve. Most are lucky if they have the opportunity to play for a state championship even once in their high school athletics career. State championships not only provide athletes with the biggest stage to compete on, but they also provide spotlights on communities. Schools big and small come together to rally around their home team. Sending a team to state is a truly unifying experience for communities all over the state.

I have felt this embrace from my community many times, for which I am grateful. This shared experience is not an uncommon one for the student athletes of Freeman High School. For years, the small, rural farm school outside of Spokane has has dominated across the board, both in league and out of league competitions. Freeman athletes challenge, and many times come out on top of opposing teams from large leagues, including 2A and GSL schools.

In the 21-22 athletic season, Freeman High School made an almost unbelievable accomplishment. The school with 313 students 9th-12th, sent all but one of WIAA recognized sports to a State Championship Tournament. A high percentage of students competed in not one, but multiple state events. The support for the student athletes at Freeman is like none-other.  The state send-offs pack the main school hall wall to wall, with community members, teachers, students, and athletes. The rural community celebrates every state appearance, like it could be the last. The community is very proud of Freeman High School’s athletic excellence.  But the success of the sports team comes with a large financial burden.  In the 2021-2022 school year, Freeman High School spent nearly $25,000 to pay for 11 of Freeman’s sports teams to attend regionals and/or the State Championships. This money provides lodging for athletes and bus drivers. For a small school like Freeman, that number is large, but one the district has been able to provide for the athletes. If Freeman athletes put in the work and qualify for State, the school will make sure they get there.  However, administrators, coaches, and parents have all felt the weight of this heavy price tag. It was questioned if this amount was sustainable, as the athletic programs showed no sign of slowing down. To help offset these rising costs, and augment additional money for the athletic fund, Freeman High School hosted its first Athletic Auction, where the community came together to support Freeman Athletics through donations, and silent and live auctions. The auction also helped prevent increasing the cost of the sports registration fee and the one time transportation fee paid by student athletes. The event was successful, but asking the community to replicate the success of this event year after year is not realistic.

When I sat down with Freeman High School Athletic Director, Chad Ripke, we talked a lot about equity in regards to all student athletes. Mr Ripke said, “The last thing I want is for a kid or family to not play a sport in high school because they can't afford it. Every kid deserves a chance to play and compete in high school athletics.” Freeman School District ecompasses a wide variety of students, coming from different socioeconomic status. Mr. Ripke said that the district can and will hopefully be able to continue sending athletes to State, but with the bare minimum of lodging and transportation.  The question arose of, “How do we help the kids that can't afford to eat nutritious meals on these trips?” and, “Are they being put at an athletic disadvantage when they arrive at their competition if they weren’t able to fuel their bodies simply because they couldn’t afford it?”  We were both able to agree that this is a unique situation, and a problem that in some ways, we are lucky to have. Not all schools have the success we have been able to achieve. Ultimately, funds from the athletic auction were used to help bridge the gap, and provide coaches and athletes with a meal per diem for all State Championship Tournament Events attended by our athletes. A large group of student-athletes were extremely grateful to be able to fuel their bodies to a level where they could compete with the best, by using this money.

The athletic experiences I’ve had through sports at Freeman High School is something I’m grateful for and will try and pay forward to those who come after me. Every high school athlete chases that dream of competing at state, and student athletes at Freeman High School have completed this race many times. I can’t help but wonder, how much longer can this last? Throughout the coming years, our team's successes will ebb and flow, although I can’t imagine our State Championship Tournament appearances becoming obsolete. As of the winter sports seasons, Freeman Athletics remain on track to have similar success at the state level. What about the other small, but successful schools like Freeman; Can local communities afford to support their teams, without creating a financial burden?

I do believe it’s important to shine a light on real issues affecting all schools. Before sitting down with my athletic director, I was uneducated about this issue. I hope student-athletes like myself will take the time to understand the sacrifices and difficulties that come with sports for those around them. One way to start is by taking the time after school or practice to thank your athletic directors, administrators, coaches for all they do, and for making opportunities like state happen both financially and logistically.  High school sports are experiences that do not come without a price, paid by communities, administrators, districts,  families, and athletes alike; but are a true source of unreplicatable magic.

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April 2023

4/17/2023 'Small School Athletic Success and the Price Paid,' by Kate Schneider, Freeman HS

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