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Ben Hillyer / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — The Rymer family, from left, Matthew, 17, Caroline, 11, mother Melissa, Parker, 16, and Lauren, 14, is active in the sports arena. Each Rymer child participates in at least one extracurricular activity at Cathedral School. Parker and Matthew play football. Lauren is a member of the Emerald Tide, and Caroline is a member of the Little Wave. The cost of the sports they love add up, though, mom admits.

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Paying the price: Miss-Lou families shell out big bucks to help their young athletes

Published 12:35am Sunday, September 23, 2012

NATCHEZ — Melissa Rymer loves watching her children perform on the football field each Friday night.

She gets a thrill from seeing her son Parker catch a touchdown pass or her son Matthew make a big tackle. She also takes great pride in watching her daughters, Lauren and Caroline, perform at halftime as members of the Emerald Tide and Little Waves respectively.

The cost of allowing each child to do what they love is tough for Melissa and her husband, Todd. But she said the joy she gets watching her children perform more than makes up for the money, time and effort she spends in supporting them.

“We’re a football family,” Melissa said. “So we go all out for football, but it’s worth it. We enjoy sports.”

Families, like the Rymers, across the Miss-Lou sacrifice time and money for their children to participate in high school and youth sports. Local schools generally provide all the necessary equipment for each child to participate, but youth sports, travel and extra equipment can empty out parents’ pockets quickly.

Parker, 16, and Matthew, 17, started playing football when they were in third grade. They also participated in baseball, basketball and track. Through the years the family spent a lot of money on providing for the boys’ sports, but this year may have provided the biggest hit to the family pocketbook, Melissa said.

Before the season began, Melissa purchased approximately $800 worth of training equipment for Matthew and Parker to make themselves better athletes. When fall drew near, she spent approximately $750 on each boy for shoulder pads and helmets. She also purchased cleats for each son at $72 a pair.

Cathedral provides all of its players with pads and helmets, but Melissa decided she wanted to spend a little extra for the top-of-the-line products, she said.

Melissa said she wants her children to have the best equipment possible, so she has no problem spending extra to make sure they have what they need, she said.

“(Matthew) hits really hard, so he needs extra protection,” she said. “We wanted a helmet that is good with concussion prevention, because he had one last year.”

Todd agreed that the family wants to provide the best for their children.

“You want to have the best equipment, because it’s not all the same,” he said. “We’ve always tried to get the best equipment we could get them.”

Melissa said it cost $600 for Lauren, 14, to be a member of the Emerald Tide. That fee accounts for summer camp, dance outfits, boots and practice outfits. Caroline’s cost for the Little Waves was less of a hit at $50, but she also plays AYA basketball and will need basketball shoes in January.

But the young athletes do not take what they have for granted and remain grateful, Matthew said.

“It’s big motivation (having your family support you),” he said. “It’s a very nice feeling to know they give you support. It definitely makes me better.”

Each Rymer child spends at least half of his or her day either doing schoolwork or practicing their sport. Parker said keeping up with everything can become difficult.

“It’s day and night every day until the weekend,” he said.

Todd and Melissa give their time too, especially when the boys were too young to drive.

“It was pretty tough,” Todd said about keeping up with four young athletes. “You have to hope you have an employer that will work with you and knows that a lot of families are doing the same thing.”

Melissa said her mother, Kathy Baroni, helped out a great deal when the children were younger as well.

All of the Rymer children try to get to as many of their siblings’ activities as possible, and Melissa said she spends approximately $200 on gas, tickets and food when traveling to out-of-town events.

“I drive a gas guzzler that costs a lot to fill up to go, and Caroline runs to the concession stand every five minutes,” Melissa said.

Natchez High School athletic director Fred Butcher said he understands how much parents have to give up financially to let their children play sports, and he said he is glad the schools are able to provide the equipment students need if the families cannot.

“The last two or three years the economy has been so tight on some parents that they are having to work two jobs to make ends meet,” Butcher said. “There would be some cases where children could not participate without the school’s help.”

Angela James, the mother of Natchez High School football player Amos James III (A.J.), said she is grateful that Natchez provides equipment for players.

“I think it’s awesome,” she said. “For all the parents that don’t have the finances to pay, there would be a lot of children that couldn’t afford to play sports.”

Angela said the only thing she had to buy A.J. was football cleats that cost approximately $170. But she is also willing to give her son some of the extra equipment that he likes to wear, she said.

“When you have a son like mine, he wants all the extras,” Angela said. “He wants hand warmers and Under Armour and all that stuff.”

A.J. also participates in track for Natchez during the school year and AAU track and field during the summer. She said AAU gets more expensive.

“We travel a lot with track,” she said. “When we travel, with gasoline as high as I don’t know what, during the summer months it gets expensive. Over all our track travelling, we’ve spent close to $3,000, but when we go different places we also visit theme parks and eat out.”

Both the Rymer and James families hope their financial commitments will pay off in the end for their children, they said.

“Sports are a ticket for scholarships,” Angela said.

A.J. is currently being recruited by a number of different schools for track, and the family will start feeling the cost of taking visits soon.

Matthew, a junior, is the closest Rymer athlete to college-age, and he said he is training hard to try to get a football scholarship to keep playing the game he loves and also help pay his parents back for all their support.