Weekend warriors face higher costs to play

Eric McHugh

The lawn might be a little browner and the shrubs might look, well, a little scrubbier. Life, after all, is a series of tradeoffs, especially with the economy wheezing and coughing.

“A lot of people are cutting back on getting their lawns chemically sprayed or having someone come cut it,” Dennis McMath said. “They're mostly cutting back in areas that would be considered a luxury.”

Hockey, in McGrath's circle of friends, is not a luxury, however.

So he and his buddies are lopping off the non-essentials and focusing on what’s really meaningful – like early morning pickup games in the adult Has Been Hockey program at the Pilgrim Skating Arena in Hingham.

Across the sports spectrum, from golf to softball to basketball to tennis, it seems weekend (and weekday morning) warriors on the South Shore are willing to grin and bear it when it comes to the ever-rising cost of recreational sports. Whether it is golf balls or running shoes, the cost of equipment goes up every year, and fees to join, play or participate never seem to go down.

None of that, however, stops people who want to stay in shape or compete like they did in high school or just have a good time. Adult rosters remain full despite the high costs, tee times after 8 a.m. on a Saturday are prized and the number of people who have to buy more than one pair of running shoes a year grows every year. Twenty-five thousand people will run in the Boston Marathon this year, and more than 500 are amateur runners from the South Shore.

Amateur athletic endeavors seem largely recession-proof. Paul D’Amico, director of tennis at the Weymouth Club, where lessons cost $71 to $91 per hour and an hour of court time goes for $28.50 or $35.50, depending on the time of day, said his business is booming.

“The economic climate could impact it,” he said, “but one thing that I have found is that exercise isn’t something that (most budget-conscious people) give up. They try to work around that.”

Terry Greenleaf, assistant director of Quincy Women’s Softball League, said she has had no problem filling 20-player rosters for her 18 teams. The entry fee is $40 per player, and each team must raise another $350, mostly through local sponsorships.

“Our league’s one of the oldest, so we’ve been pretty steady” in terms of popularity, she said. “I don't think (the economy) has really affected us, but I’m sure with the price of gasoline people are going to be carpooling.”

Increasingly expensive

McMath, a 51-year-old Marshfield resident who runs the Has Been Hockey program, has about 140 players, ranging in age from 21 to 65, who can play up to six times a week for about $10 a game. The lack of referees and the early start times (6:30 a.m. most days) keep prices down. But even then, McMath has seen a slight dropoff in attendance lately.

“There used to be very little turnover,” he said, “but now I do have some guys saying that it’s just a little too much, between the price of gas and (equipment). Money’s just a little too tight.”

Still, most hockey diehards keep going, even though ice time in many other leagues can run much higher and a pair of skates can set you back $400.

“It is expensive and it’s getting more expensive,” said Has Been Hockey player John Salmon, 54, of Marshfield, who also plays in a Hingham-based over-50 league that costs $500 per year. “But I like it so much that I’ll forfeit that money in order to play.”

Sacrifice elsewhere

Bill Burnett, founder and race director of the Cohasset Triathlon, said events such as his are “recession-proof because people are focused on health and getting in shape.” This year's race, scheduled for June 29, is sold out with 825 individual entrants and 30 relay teams of two or three athletes each, he said. The waiting list has 300 names on it.

Jennifer Gallagher, a 36-year-old mother of two from Cohasset, forked over $75 for the triathlon (proceeds go to charity) and $110 for today's Boston Marathon, which she has run twice before. Despite the fees, she said, the cost of running is “pretty reasonable compared to other sports.”

Still, the race fees can add up. Ditto for the running shoes, because she burns through an average of four pairs a year, at about $100 each.

“I would put off buying a new pair of shoes if for some reason” money got tight, she said. “We just did some renovations on the house earlier this year, and I waited until the spring to get my new shoes.”

As Greenleaf noted, no one forces you to buy a $300 (or more) softball bat, although many players in her league do just that.

Players in the Has Been Hockey program try to squeeze another season out of their old gear.

“I like the old equipment,” Salmon said. “Everybody does that plays hockey. They like their old stuff. They won’t (replace it) until it rots off them, usually.”

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