The City of St. Paul has dropped all youth sports fees, and doing so has led to a huge uptick in participation.
Federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act is credited for the change, with the city's Parks and Recreation Department waiving all sports fees for kids ages 9-18 for the next three years starting this winter.
Mayor Melvin Carter spoke highly of the change on Twitter last week.
"We used #AmericanRescuePlan dollars to waive fees for youth sports programs. Now, registration for soccer and basketball is up nearly 40 percent. It's an example of how a relatively minor change can have an enormous impact on our families," Carter said.
Bring Me The News spoke with St. Paul Parks and Recreation Director Andy Rodriguez, who said the city has seen a major climb in interest since the removal of the fees.
Speaking on basketball alone, Rodriguez said the board has seen over 1,300 kids register for the sport as of Wednesday — a 40% increase from the previous year, as Carter said.
"It has brought us back to that pre-pandemic level of getting people back into our programs," Rodriguez said. He added that non-traditional sports could be brought back as well, such as ultimate frisbee and track and field.
Other youth sports leagues the city has include volleyball, baseball, flag football, softball. The hope is to create more interest in those sports as well, with the intention of adding more as time goes on.
Fees ranged from $25 to $40 prior to the cancellation. Rodriguez noted how the cancellation of these fees are becoming a trend across Parks and Recreation Boards across the country.
"That might seem like a nominal fee to some but for others that's a lot of money," Rodriguez said. "That's groceries, that's gas, that's something where families are faced with a decision. By eliminating the fees, it gives everyone a chance to participate on an equal level."
Rodriguez said the three-year timeframe will give the city and board time to evaluate and create a better solution so fees don't have to come back.
"We have a lot of runway to plan and forecast for future budgets so we can hopefully keep this sustainable and prevent from having to reimplement a fee structure," he said.
The city will spend around $1.5 million of the federal funds on its recreational centers. Besides the elimination of these fees, the funds will also be spent on equipment purchases and expanding its mobile recreational programs, such as game trucks, climbing walls and other programs.
Kids can get signed up for St. Paul youth sports here.