High school life is filled with many memories, and many of those memories are a result of participation in cocurricular activities programs. Student-athletes put significant time into practice in order to perform their best on game day.
Another memory from high school days comes from being a fan. An athletic event is really the social hub of high school. On any given day, the following question can be heard throughout the high school hallway: “Are you going to the game tonight?”.
From an administration standpoint, there needs to be support for this person-to-person social networking. An athletic event is a safe and supervised place for teenagers to come together. It allows schools to focus on the aspect of school pride, supporting classmates and staying connected to each other.
One challenge in promoting student attendance more fervently has been the hurdle of finances. As a way of keeping admission costs from deterring attendance, some schools have started to allow students to attend school events free of charge.
One school that has recently started free student admission is Grand Meadow High School in Minnesota. As a result of this new policy, Grand Meadow has a great student section at home events, and some of the most loyal fans are the ones who previously did not attend because of costs.
“Since students don’t pay admission, it has dramatically increased our student attendance at events, especially with our lower socio-economic families,” said Gary Sloan, activities director at Grand Meadow. “We have had minimal issues with discipline since this began.”
Many times, in order to change culture in a high school, you have to attach value. What has allowing students free admission done to your ticket sales? Is it significant enough to NOT do it? Students who feel valued and are given opportunities that are valuable to them changes how it feels, how school feels and how it feels to be a fan.
Another way that this kind of policy changes culture is that the school is giving the green light for students to support each other, regardless of the various socio-economic backgrounds. Students become aware of each other when they are supporting each other. The fan knows who is on the team and the player is aware of the fans. This allows for players to have peer support. The fans have support of each other by just being in the student section. Ultimately, by letting students in free, you have taken away socio-economic discrimination.
Giving students a place to hang out makes them feel connected. It allows them to continue to be a part of the school after the school day ends. It is a time to socialize and create memories. It is a time to have fun. It is a time for students to have face-to-face connectedness – not hiding behind a screen.
Could adopting a policy of free admission for students increase the number of students who attend? In the case of Grand Meadow that was certainly the case.
Prior to enacting a free admission policy that potentially could spike attendance at an athletic event, it is important to establish clear expectations. Although sportsmanship would need to be monitored, students should be provided their own section in the stands. There may be bumps along the way, but the benefits will far outweigh the hiccups.
Houston High School in Minnesota established clear expectations after adopting its free student admission policy. While students in grades 7-12 could attend school events free of charge, the school made it clear that elementary students had to be accompanied by a parent or guardian in order to attend the game. This was implemented due to the “hallway factor.” Many elementary students would gather in the hallways to run, visit and goof around. Many times, more supervision was needed in the hallways than in the gymnasium.
In addition to athletic events, schools could also offer students free admission for school drama productions, although the challenge here is that many of the performances are sold out. A couple of options are to offer a performance during the school day for the student body or have a select area for student seating and require students to pick up tickets early. Either way, it is important to allow students of all socio-economic backgrounds to attend events and support their classmates.
Schools that do not offer free student admission may face some challenging situations with students who are on school property but not attending because they don’t have the money. More students are in the hallways or commons and not watching the game, so then more supervision needs to be given in the area outside the gym while efforts to maintain sportsmanship continue inside the gym. If a student says he or she doesn’t have the money to attend the event, the best solution on many fronts is to let the student into the event.
In some cases, schools have tried to implement a free student admission policy and been turned down by the school board. It can have an impact on ticket sales, and sometimes that is essential. However, it may increase concession stand sales. In many schools, if a student wants to participate in an activity, a scholarship program exists to pay the activity fee. Should fans have the same opportunity? Each school needs to consider what is needed to provide students an opportunity to be together and to show them they are valued.
In the case of high school athletes, there is nothing like playing in front of a full gymnasium, much like a full house in the theatre. Big crowds add to school spirit and a sense of belonging. As high school activities continue to be a memory maker, taking out the socio-economic factor could be a culture changer.
Lisa Myran-Schutte, CAA, is the athletic/activities director at Pine Island (Minnesota) High School after serving in a similar capacity at Houston (Minnesota) High School for several years. She is a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.