The price of admission

File PhotoJake Tarnow puts up a shot in a Marquette boys basketball game last season. The school does not charge admission to athletics events to students.

The kids gets in free.

Franklin and Pendleton Heights high schools gained media attention downstate recently when they announced students wouldn't be charged admission to athletic events in the coming school year.

The concept, though rare in Indiana, due to the state's reliance upon gate receipts for funds, is not without precedent.

"For at least the last several years, Marquette High School has not charged its students for admission into home regular-season athletic events," Assistant Director of Athletics Brad Collignon said. "It was that way when (A.D.) Katie (Collignon) got here. First and foremost, we want to encourage school spirit, and don't want money to inhibit that. Secondly, students/families pay tuition ($8,800 per year) and fees so the school doesn't want to nickel-and-dime them."

The primary reason that the Class A Catholic school can do so without putting its athletics programs deep in the red is a unique set-up with its concessions that funnels money back into the budget during the school day.

"Katie and I manage operations of our concession stand, which is open not only during athletic events but also during our two lunch periods," Collignon said. "It's the school's goal for the athletic department to be self-sustaining. We're not quite there yet, but with a combination of gate and concessions revenues, fundraising, corporate partnerships, and private donations, athletics is now as close as ever to breaking even."

In case students don't want the standard concessions fare, the school also offers a deli with salads, paninis, soups, fruits and vegetables.

Across town at Michigan City High School, Director of Athletics Craig Shaman wishes he could do more to accommodate the financial constraints of students who can't regularly swing the $6 to attend events, a flat fee set by the Duneland Athletic Conference.

"I'd love to give the kids as much free stuff as we can. It's their school. They're the most important customers," Shaman said. "It's a school event. They're students. They're the first people I would let in free. A ton of kids would stay after school and go to a soccer game, a track meet, if they knew it didn't cost anything. Unlike some states, we here in Indiana are so revenue driven. We have to charge admission. It's a business and our business is charging for games. We need the money like everybody else. I wouldn't charge anybody if we didn't need the money. I'd pay for the popcorn if we had the ability to do it."

Shaman knows the prices deter some students from attending activities and he does what he can within the DAC rules to cut them slack where possible. At the top of that list is a $25 student pass that provides admission for the whole school year.

"Honestly, I think $6 is a lot for a lot of our students and it does discourage attendance in some ways," Shaman said. "Kids will tell us they just don't have the money. When I first got here, I thought that seemed a little high for kids, but I certainly understand it. We're a member in good standing of the DAC, so we go along with it. If we had the freedom, we'd probably have a different student price, like $6 and $3. (The pass) is a great deal. That's your best move. They should've bought a pass, then Friday comes, everybody's going to the game, and they don't have the money."

As an incentive to instill academic and athletic pride in the same process, Shaman also cuts ticket prices for tech-aware students who let him know they are doing well in school.

"Sports are for the kids, the kids who get to play and the kids who get to watch their classmates play," he said. "We have an online system and I publicize that if they come by during the week and show me their grades on their phone, I'll give them a ticket for half price. A lot of kids have come by and done that. Some of them are really proud. They'll be like, look, I have all As. It's really cool."

At La Porte, A.D. Ed Gilliland has come up with ways to cut some slack on the kids' wallets.

"La Porte offers free admittance to student athletes to all athletic events during their season," Gilliland said. "For instance, a football player will be admitted free to all fall sports, a basketball player to all winter sports and a baseball player to all spring sports. We do offer a reduced price to athletic events for LPHS students."

New South Central A.D. John Haggard spent his first two years as a teacher at La Porte and likes the idea of implementing the same system at some point.

"It's something (principal) Ben (Anderson) and I have kicked around, get in discounted or free," he said. "It's something we're exploring."

As is, S.C. has a student rate of $4, one less than the adult price, for sports other than football, which is $5, as set by the Greater South Shore Conference. Its student pass for a school year is $20.

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