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The traveling game

Young athletes spend more time competing on the road

Posted: August 17, 2013 9:32 p.m.
Updated: August 17, 2013 9:32 p.m.

Young athletes spend more time competing on the road, and the costs often fall on the parents.

 

 Today marks the first in a five-day series in which The Signal looks at the influence of money in our sports. 

 

Alison Lee is the most successful girls golfer to ever come out of the Santa Clarita Valley.

And she is just 18 years old and about to start her freshman year at UCLA.

Some might say a reason she has achieved elite status is because she competed at such a high level with girls of her ilk.

And in order to that, she had to travel — a lot.

And with that has come significant costs.

Her mother Sung estimates that the per-tournament cost is $2,500 to $3,000.

Total cost of all expenses?

“I don’t know how much,” Sung said. “Over six years? She played out of state eight to 10 times per year. During summer break, she’s away from home sometimes three, for weeks.”

A conservative estimate would put the cost at $20,000 per year — a very

 

conservative estimate.

It’s not just super-elite athletes like Lee.

It’s every parent who has a child on a club or “travel” team or a child who is in an individual sport who has to pay big money for their athlete to compete.

Gone are the days of parents putting their kids in just Little League or parks and rec sports.

In order to keep up with the Joneses, give their kids better competition and various other reasons, kids are traveling to play their sport outside of the Santa Clarita Valley.

This isn’t an SCV thing either — it’s national with the amount of showcases, tournaments and camps that in many cases give kids exposure to better competition and college and professional scouts and the media.

But that was a byproduct for the Valaika family, whose four boys all earned college baseball scholarships and three who have played professional baseball.

It wasn’t cheap, though.

“Oh my gosh, hundred thousand, I don’t know,” said Ilona Valaika, on how much she thinks her family spent on Chris, Matt, Pat and Nick Valaika — all Hart High products — to play travel ball.

The boys have played in New York, Texas, Iowa, Arkansas, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and Nebraska — and those were just what Ilona could remember.

The family has gone through a few cars, has had to fundraise and had to sacrifice at their jobs.

Ilona chose a job, she said, where she could be close to home to take her kids to baseball functions.

The Valaikas, like the Lees, are dual income working families who have had to sacrifice.

Vacation destinations are where their kids are playing.

However not every tournament or showcase is beneficial, Ilona said.

“(Some showcases) take a lot of money with the promise of exposure,” she said. “So many show up and may pay $500 and get an inning of playing time. To me that’s not cost beneficial.”

She adds that college and pro scouts have a job to do and they will find talent no matter where they play.

She also said kids run the risk of overexposure by playing in numerous showcases.

It’s the love of the sport, she and Sung say that should drive families.

“She loves it,” Sung said of Alison. “Not all the parents can afford to travel so far away. It’s very expensive. ... But tournaments are very important. The competition, competing with others, you gain so much. Every tournament you’re learning a lot form others.”

Sung said from her experience, golfers don’t necessarily have to travel far distances to get that competition.

West Ranch High boys and girls golf coach Jeff Holen’s son J.J. is now a sophomore at Long Beach State.

J.J. didn’t really get going playing individual tournaments outside of high school until he was a junior.

Holen estimates in two years, the family poured $40,000 to 50,000 into J.J.’s golf.

In six years he estimates the family has spent close to $20,000 on their daughter Jessy’s soccer travel expenses.

The family has had to sacrifice spending money on house improvements and Jeff even says the credit card has been maxed out a couple of times.

For Jessy, the money was spent because she enjoyed the sport. For J.J., Jeff said, the money was an investment for getting him to play golf in college.

“It’s like anything. You have to spend money to make money,” Jeff said.

But is the dream of a college education worth the financial sacrifices of travel ball?

Skip Sorenson’s daughter Kylie received a scholarship to play softball at Stanford University. His younger daughter, Mollie, followed in Kylie’s footsteps by playing travel ball and has verbally committed to Penn State.

Like Sung, Ilona and Jeff, Skip estimates he’s poured thousands of dollars into registration fees, equipment, and most substantially, travel costs.

“Most kids that end up getting scholarships, if someone bankrolled that money and invested it would they be able to pay for their college education? Probably,” Sorenson said.

And that’s Skip’s biggest warning; that parents shouldn’t go in with unrealistic expectations.

“It was something that we never intended on getting into the sport for a college education,” he said. “We got into the sport because our family has always been outstanding. “It was a bonus, Kylie going to Stanford and Mollie going to Penn State, it was never a set of guidelines, ‘We’re doing this because of this or that.’ When we sent her down to Huntington Beach (for travel) it was just for her to get better. She loved the sport that much and we’ll do what we can when we can do it.”

Signal sports writer Jon Stein contributed to this story.

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