City of St. Paul eliminates fees for youth sports

This summer, when St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter announced the city would use American Rescue Plan funding toward community safety, part of that plan was to help boost youth programming at parks and community recreation centers.

And from what they’re seeing so far, the investment is working.

"It’s a great story to tell, and we’re excited to get the season started," said Andy Rodriguez, the city’s Parks and Rec Director.

"We formally kicked this off in the fall with soccer, we saw a modest increase there," said Rodriguez, "but we always knew that basketball was going to be the true indicator because that’s one of our most popular sports."

What the city did is eliminate registration fees for their age 10 and up youth leagues for the next three years. Between soccer and basketball, registrations are up nearly 40 percent, with more than 1200 kids participating this year in those two sports.

McDonough Rec Center is an example of what they see as a success. It hadn’t hosted a basketball team in the winter league for at least four years. When the season kicks off at the end of October, they will have five.

"When our Parks and Rec staff brought this proposal forward, it was really easy for us to embrace," said Mayor Melvin Carter.

"What’s exciting to me, and it’s just like when we eliminated late fines in our libraries, is all the ways we can make really relatively minor changes that can have an enormous impact."

St. Paul also has youth leagues for volleyball, baseball and softball. They hope the free registration spurs more participation in those, too. And they’re looking at adding more.

"But it also kind of this next three years opens up the opportunity to offer new things, too," said Rodriguez. "So thinking about what we can do differently or what the community may want to see. Is that ultimate Frisbee? Is that soccer in the winter in the dome?"

As for what happens after the three years of federal money runs out, the hope is they see a success that convinces the city council to take it on themselves.

"I told our Parks and Rec team," said Mayor Carter, "go show us what we can do, go show us the impact we can have, so that we can justify making it permanent. And it feels like they are."