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High ceiling, high expense

Talented young athletes don’t come along often, and they don’t come cheap

Posted: August 5, 2009 9:48 p.m.
Updated: August 6, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Ryan Tait, 13, takes a shot Wednesday at Ice Station Valencia. Tait's family has had to spend around $17,500 in the last year alone for Tait to play.

 
Fostering a passion can be a pricey venture for parents of gifted athletes.

As a child progresses through the ranks of athletics the cost of travel, league fees, equipment, lessons and all the added extras of supporting an elite athlete increase to levels that force families and players
to make various sacrifices.

The cost starts at a young age, but for a dedicated athlete, parents must find ways to help their children reach the highest level.

Some children start playing organized sports as young as the age of four, which is the first level of American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), and many focus on one sport before they even reach the age of 10.

Tristin Thierry, a 12 year-old tennis player, is one example of a young athlete, who has found his passion and is dedicated to making a sport his future.

He practices seven days a week, putting in at least 15 hours of time on the court and working with various coaches to improve his game.

On weekends his family, wakes up at six in the morning to drive to Marina del Rey to work with a serving coach.

“When you have a child that loves something, as a parent, you have to do everything you can to give them every opportunity to go after what they want,” says Tristin’s mother, Patty. “He is very dedicated to his sport, and we want to support him in that.”

The Thierrys pay $60 an hour to Tristin’s coaches, and the camps he attends cost as much as $750 a week if they are overnight trips.

Patty estimated that their family spends up to $8,000 a year on Tristin’s growing tennis career.

“Obviously, that’s a lot of money, but the truth is, tennis is one of the cheaper sports for a child to play,” Patty says. “We are fortunate because my husband is self-employed so he can work more when he wants if we need to come up with more money for a camp or anything to help Tristin with tennis.”

Thierry's father runs his own crane company, which also allows him the freedom to work with Tristin on a regular basis on days when he is not working with a coach.

“My husband and I work hard to give Tristin opportunities that we didn’t have,” Patty says. “We know he has the talent and that he wants to make the most of it.”

Most recently the Thierrys took a trip to Hawaii so Tristin could practice with his uncle, a former pro player, and have a match against the top Hawaiian 15-year-old girls player.

While the trip was extremely beneficial to Tristin’s game, it was another expense for the family as he chases a dream that he has found at a young age.

“You make accommodations so your child can reach their goals,” Patty says. “It’s not always easy, and sometimes it gets tough to balance, but when it’s your child you know you will do anything to help them.”

The Thierrys also help Tristin in the classroom. He takes private Spanish lessons, and he is bilingual. The seventh grader also earned a 4.0 GPA last semester.

The Thierrys, who live in Saugus, are also already debating where Tristin will go to high school.

“Tennis in this area isn’t traditionally as strong as in other parts of Southern California,” Patty says. “Saugus is a great school scholastically, but these next two years are crucial for Tristin as far as deciding where he is going to go to school. Tennis is a young man’s game so being 12 isn’t quite like being 12 in another sport.”

Ryan Tait has been playing hockey for five years, which in Southern California means long commutes to practice and big bills for the parents to handle.

The 13 year-old plays year-round with the California Waves based out of Artesia, and the costs add up in a hurry.

According to his mother, Michelle Tait, the family spent $4,000 on club dues, $1,000 on coaches fees, $4,000 for three travel tournaments, $2,000 on gas to drive to Artesia for practice three times a week, $5,100 for private lessons, and $1,400 for equipment, which comes to a rough total around $17,500.

“I think we had been in denial about how much we spend until we sat down to tally it all up,” Michelle Tait says. “Still, he loves it, and he plays every day. He already has goals. He wants to go play college hockey in Boston, and like any kid that loves sports he has the dream of playing professionally.”

Tait, who previously played for the Valencia Express and the West Valley Wolves of Panorama City, has both a private stick-handling coach and a skating coach.

He recently had the chance to play in a tournament in Quebec this year, which was a first for him.

“The running joke with hockey families is that you plan your vacations around hockey,” Michelle says. “It’s really true though. We get the chance to go to a lot of great places, and we always try to find ways to work in fun when we are away from the rink.”

Tait started out roller-skating, but once he found hockey he was hooked.

He is now on the ice every day.

“At first he was into it just for the fun,” Michelle says. “Once we saw how good he was doing, we decided to take it a little more seriously. It’s something that could really help his future. It could lead to a scholarship.”

Still there are sacrifices that come with being a dedicated athlete.

“All of Ryan’s friends joke that they shouldn’t even bother to invite him to their birthday parties because they know he can’t come,” Michelle says. “It can be tough on him sometimes, but he knows what he loves, and he loves playing hockey so he knows there will be some things that he misses out on.”

However, the Tait family knows what they have to give up is well worth it because Ryan’s success is more valuable than the money they invest or the long hours they put in supporting their son.

“There are many other families that are in the same boat as us,” Michelle says. “It’s amazing how many families sacrifice time and money to give their child an opportunity to play beyond youth hockey.”

The expenses start at a young age and only grow over time.

The AYSO charges a minimal entry fee of $115.

The lowest fee for Canyon Country Little League baseball is $75, and neither of those fees cover equipment such as cleats, gloves or shin guards.

No youth sport may cost parents more than football.

The Santa Clarita Valley Athletic Association charged $375 per player last year for each participant in the Pacific Youth Football League.

While the fee covered most costs for participants, parents were still responsible for cleats, a girdle and mouthpiece which should cost approximately $100.

“As for cost to run the league,” says SCVAA treasurer Andrea Adam, “SCVAA had 20 teams last year and by the time we purchased coaches shirts, provided CPR Training and Coaches Clinics, as well as some advertising and administrative costs and all the items, we spent $180,000 for the season.”

Still, the numbers continue to grow at a staggering rate as a truly gifted athlete rises through the ranks.

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