By Mike LaBella
---- — It’s working.
Part of the formula for increasing student participation in Haverhill High School sports was a reduction in the cost of fees charged to players.
Officials speculated that if they decreased the fees, more students could afford to play sports and Hillie teams would become more competitive.
The decision has brought success. More kids are playing and the program is enjoying more victories.
As fees dropped during the last two school years, more student athletes signed up to play sports last year and again this year.
For the current year, the student playing fee is $100. For the 2011-2012 school year, the fee was $125, down from $275 the year before.
There are 320 student on Haverhill High sports teams this spring, bringing the total number of sports participants to more than 1,000 for the school year, Athletic Director Tom O’Brien said. The school had 968 participants in 2011-2012 and 868 in 2010-2011.
”It went up about 35 participants from last year, while the year before it was a jump of about 100,” O’Brien said.
This school year, fall sports, including football, field hockey, soccer, golf, swimming, volleyball and cheerleading, had 403 student athletes participating. Winter sports, including basketball, hockey, indoor track, cross country, wrestling, skiing, swimming and cheerleading involved 279 students, while 320 students signed up for spring sports like baseball, softball, track and field, tennis, volleyball and lacrosse.
Although reducing sports fees are seen as a big reason for an increase in participation in sports, it’s not the only reason, O’Brien said.
”We have to give credit to our coaching staff and our student athletes for all the hard work they put in,” he said. “There’s definitely an excitement around the sports program as it’s grown over the past year. Our teams have been more successful, and as a result we have more students coming to games. And there’s a related increase in school spirit.”
O’Brien said his goal is to eliminate student sports fees at Haverhill High.
”We’re always working towards reducing and ultimately eliminating fees,” he said. “We’ve seen the impact reducing fees has had. So I think further reductions will lead to more positive results with the sports program.”
Haverhill High’s student athletes made their community proud this year. Examples of their success include the Hillie football team’s remarkable season. The team had eight wins and three losses, marking just the second time in the last 40 years that Haverhill High has won eight games in a season and matching the win total of the 2001 squad.
At the annual MSTCA Elite Meet, held in January, three Hillie track athletes were among the best in the state. Alex Mahew placed fifth in the 55-meter dash with a time of 6.62. Riley Gilmore was the top finisher for the Hillies, taking fourth place in the 2-mile run, while Jackie Solimine finished 11th in the 1-mile run.
At the MIAA All-State Meet in February, Mahew ran the 55-meter dash in 6.50 seconds, snapping a school record that had stood for more than 20 years. The previous record of 6:58 was set in 1991 by Rusty White. A week later at the All-New England Championship meet, Mahew ran the 55-meter dash in 6.48 seconds, beating his previous school record.
Musicians have joined in to boost the school’s sport spirit. For the first time in several years, a marching band assembled to play at a Hillie football game in the fall.