Parents weigh cost of getting athletes experience, exposure - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Sports

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Posted: Wednesday, August 3, 2011 8:00 am

When the Ahwatukee Little League team had a day off from games during a week's stay in Flagstaff some of the players went fishing.

While the kids were trying to figure out how to tantalize a fish with a worm, most of the parents were back at the hotel wondering how to turn the pillows into a pile of cash.

After winning nine of its first 10 games, it appeared the "Dawgs" might be playing deep into the summer. Considering the families had spent about $1,000 each already for about a five-day stay up north, another month of road games could add up to a good down payment on a new home.

And they were on the hook for the long haul. Their signatures on the affidavit assured it.

Everyone who is selected for the All-Star teams at each age level has to sign a commitment form that states they will be at every practice and game. Understandable. Why select someone who might not be around and mess with team chemistry?

But the other reason behind the commitment form is to let parents at the Major (11 and 12 year olds) level know that if they are on the team they must agree to incur all of the costs associated with travel should the team keep advancing.

"No one thinks the team will go that far and sign it without thinking about the financial side of it," said Rich Wunnenberg, whose son, Josh, was on the ALL Majors. "It became reality when we were in Flagstaff and everyone started wondering about travel dates and how much is it going to cost."

It's a question each parent has to weigh as their young athletes begin to show promise in a sport.

Of course you want your child to succeed, compete and enjoy something, in this case a sport, they've shown a passion for but at the same time you don't want to have to take on a crazy amount of debt to allow it to happen.

There are varying degrees of involvement.

For the Little League parents they are bonded by commitment form and it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because after their one shot they are too old to play on that team.

With Junior Olympic track athletes, wrestlers who qualify for national championships in Fargo, N.D., club basketball players in out-of-state tournaments and football players attending camps and combines it is an annual cost that is largely done by choice.

"We usually just find a way to make things work each time," said Sarah Barnes, whose son, Jalen Brown, is a highly-recruited sophomore football and basketball player at Mountain Pointe.

"We will have to start saving a little more in advance, I think, for the next couple of years as we anticipate having to travel a little more and a little farther."

Brown just returned from Oklahoma where he was named Athlete MVP for his grade at the National Underclassmen Combine's Top Prospect Elite for football. Before that he was in California for both football and basketball and Las Vegas for basketball.

Barnes estimated that they spent about $1,800 the last two months going to all of these events. As a national recruit, the exposure at these events can be part of the process, but not necessary.

At the same time it is hard to say no to your child when he has shown the maturity and athletic ability to compete at the biggest of stages.

"He really competes in the camps/combines and AAU basketball to gauge where he is at and try to compete against the best out there so that he can get better," Barnes said. "He is extremely competitive and wants to be the best and he loves to compete and, of course, I love to watch. So to the extent I can afford camps and trips to do that, I will."

Mike Bambic felt he had to find a way to get his son, Alex, to Mexico for the Pan-Am Games after the latter was selected to represent the United States.

The elder Bambic put his drums up for sale in order to help pay for the trip for Alex, a junior at Desert Vista. Although the drums didn't sell, he was ready to give up his skins so his boy could thicken his.

"I was doing side jobs and selling things specifically for the trip," Bambic said. "It's definitely a ton of money, but I think he has a chance to do some great things and he keeps having glimpses of brilliance so you do what you have to."

The Wares are going through a similar experience with their son D.J., who will be a freshman at Mountain Pointe.

He has shown real promise as a track athlete and over the last month, the Ahwatukee Foothills family chose to find a way to travel to Myrtle Beach, S.C., Albuquerque, N.M., and Wichita, Kan., as D.J. competed in a qualifying event and two national events.

"We love to travel so instead of taking a family vacation we enjoy using that time traveling for his sports activities," his mother, Vivian, said.

Turning it into a family vacation is important in allowing the kids - and parents - to enjoy the time away and not focus on the game or competition alone.

It's one of the reasons why the Little Leaguers got a chance to fish in Flagstaff.

"It was cool," little leaguer Evan Popeck said. "It was raining and the temperatures were colder."

The team's bats eventually got cold as well and they lost in the finals of the state tournament, but should have the Dawgs advanced to California and Pennsylvania over the next month the bill could have been somewhere around $7,000 a family.

That is probably being conservative, and there are so many variables (school home work, pulling siblings out of school, if not where do they stay, pets, pay a little extra for a hotel with a kitchen, etc.) that have to be figured out it can make even the most prepared parent's head spin.

The players and coaches have their accommodations taken care of by Little League once they reach the regional level, but parents are looking at more than 20 days in hotels.

Getting time off from work and figuring out how you are going to pay for everything is a daunting task.

But that's what parents usually do - put the kids first even if it means rising blood pressure (and a monthly minimum payment) to get it done.

"The kids came up short, but they had a great run," Wunnenberg said. "Playing in the Little League World Series is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. If it had happen we would have figured it out somehow. We had some ideas in place for fundraising that hopefully would have helped, but there was no way we were going to miss out."

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or

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Jason P. Skoda
  • Jason P. Skoda
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  • Resident sports writer at the Ahwatukee Foothills News

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