While youth sports teams worry about win/loss, sports club organizers and schools worry about a more basic issue: how to transport the team. While richer clubs may be able to afford to purchase and maintain their own buses, most districts are forced to rent, and the costs can be significant.
Chicago’s New-Gazette recently profiled a school district in Champaign, Illinois and brought to light the difficulties involved in transporting teams.. Often, the school is left grasping for a solution, and the way kids are transported to away games frequently changes. For some games, student athletes are moved in a yellow district-owned school bus when one is available. When this isn’t an option, it’s a private bus or a charter coach, the latter of which boasts comfortable seats, air conditioning and Wi-Fi, to the delight of the students. The problem is that it’s a short trip with a high price tag, and requires that the school district enter into a contract with the charter bus company.
“At the cost of $625 for a three-hour round-trip rental from Peoria Charter, that may seem like a hefty price tag for just over 10 minutes of road time,” wrote Nicole Lafond for the News-Gazette. But looking at the cost of Unit 4 purchasing a bus (around $100,000), paying a full-time driver ($25,000 a year) and keeping up with maintenance on the vehicle, district director of operations Matt Foster says the arrangement with private companies has proven to be the best ‘short-term’ option.”
Foster estimates that the average annual payout for transporting middle school sports teams to competitions amounts to just over $200,000. While school buses would appear to be the cheaper option for transporting youth sports teams, many districts have a critical lack of bus drivers. Champaign itself currently has seven open bus driver positions. School bus drivers must have a commercial driver's license as well as bus driver permit, and the job is not highly paid. In addition, people with certain medical conditions or who take certain medications are excluded from working as a bus driver.
"It's not just finding seven qualified people who get through the background checks and everything,” Foster told the News-Gazette. “It's also 20 hours of book work and another 20 hours of driving and training just to get them through," he said. "You'll have people who just can't get through the training. It's a long process."
School sports teams also have to compete with other activities, such as band, for dibs on available school buses and drivers. Many city bus schedule coordinators maintain a priority list that includes regular pick-up and drop-off, inter-school transportation and field trips. When no buses are available for sports teams, these same districts must rely on agreements with limousine or charter bus companies. While once upon a time, parents might have loaded kids into large cars and picked up the transportation slack, many states, Illinois included, require that districts provide transportation to and from athletic games and extracurricular competitions.
"It's an equity issue," said Champaign district spokeswoman Stephanie Stuart.