Staff at two local schools made major announcements Wednesday in regards to their attendance policies for students at athletic events.
Both NorthWood and Fairfield staffs announced that all students in the Wa-Nee and Fairfield school districts, grades K-12, will have free admission to all sporting events in the 2019-20 school year. In the past, students would either have to buy an all-sports pass or tickets individually at the gate. Now, all they have to do is show their student ID and they’ll be let in to the game for free.
When I was in high school in Illinois, the only events I remember having to pay for were football and basketball games. These made sense, as they usually drew the biggest crowds. A school has to make money somehow, so I was fine with paying the $3 to attend the game.
Since moving to Indiana, though, I noticed it cost money for students to attend other sporting events, including volleyball and baseball. That always struck me as odd because I don’t remember having had to pay to go those events. My high school also had 2,500 kids in it, which is bigger than all but 13 schools in Indiana. Selling tickets to the “smaller” sporting events is probably more necessary for schools in our area because of the amount of people attending the school.
Nevertheless, I still found it interesting. And as I covered some of these volleyball and baseball games, I wondered how many more people would be there if students were allowed to attend for free. You’ll always have the typical family and hardcore fans show up, but would the crowds be bigger if students didn’t have to pay $3-$5 every time just to get in?
Well, we’re about to find out.
When I first heard that NorthWood and Fairfield made these announcements, I applauded the moves. This is a great way to allow all kids in the school district to support their school, no matter what their financial situation is. It’s a move that is receiving a lot of praise, and rightfully so.
The moves also, in theory, should increase attendance at these games. I noticed both NorthWood and Fairfield struggle with attendance at basketball games last season. While on-court performance could’ve dictated some of that, the Fairfield boys basketball team — which had a winning record all season — struggled to fill the gym on game nights.
The announcement also reminded me of something West Noble athletic director Tom Schermerhorn said to me last winter for my story on high school basketball participation in Indiana. When we talked about crowd sizes being smaller, the idea of letting in students for free was brought up. Here is what he had to say in response to that:
“I’ve had people tell me that if we let students in for free, we’d have a ton of students at games. We’ll have free student nights and we won’t have any more students show up than we’d have on a normal night,” Schermerhorn said. “I think having different promotions, inviting different groups in. I think we can do a better job of that.”
While free student nights haven’t worked as well as they hoped at West Noble, having free admission all season is a little different. Now, students don’t have to look at a calendar and see which games they can go to for free. Instead, they can just show up and know they’ll be able to get into the game. This should allow for a more consistent student crowd to attend the sporting events.
It will be interesting to see how many other local school districts make this move. So far, three other school systems in northern Indiana have joined NorthWood and Fairfield: South Bend St. Joseph, Culver Community and Plymouth. If enough schools start allowing free admission for all students in the school district, will pressure mount on the schools who haven’t made the move to follow suit?
Regardless of who makes the move to free student admission or not, NorthWood and Fairfield deserve credit for making these changes. It’s a tremendous opportunity for students to support their school’s athletic programs, and I hope to see them take advantage of it.
Austin Hough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 325. Follow Austin on Twitter @AustinHoughTGN