The kids in my Salt Lake neighborhood used to get up a game of baseball at "Muni," as we called the field on 700 East and 1300 South. The games were without the distraction of officials, uniforms and parent-fans, and even though I was usually last chosen, I went along for the camaraderie. In fact last chosen is being kind to myself. The kids used to ask me to be third base, not play third base. Besides that, I had a good bat and a ball that wasn't covered with friction tape.

It may be that my experience as a nonathlete has colored my attitude toward team sports. The truth is that I don't understand the affection for team sports that allows people in positions to make decisions to promote them over individual sports. I think I understand the economics of the problem but not the affection for the sport that causes boards of education to announce the principal of the new high school and then the football coach, and then list other assignments as footnotes or not at all. I try to look at the long-term benefit, for example, and for me there is more long-term value in individual sports than there is in most team sports.I suppose football is the most expensive example. According to coaches and participants, the game teaches teamwork and other important values. As a game, however, participation is limited. After graduation few will continue to play the game as a lifetime sport. There are about 100 high school teams in Utah and only five university and two two-year-college football teams. This doesn't bode for many opportunities to play beyond high school.

On the other hand, an individual who swims, or runs, or golfs, or plays tennis can continue the sport and the accompanying healthful lifestyle long after school is out. Those who continue to play can compete if they wish or play for fun. It is this fact that makes it hard to accept the idea that these minor sports have to be cut in some school districts to save the team sports. It is just a matter of numbers. More people play football than run cross country and more people attend one major high school football game than come to all the cross-country meets of Manti High School in a year.

The reason any sport should have to be cut is probably economic. Local school boards have had to make these reluctant cuts because of the number of people who cannot pay the required fees. Our local district cut cross country for that very reason. According to the State Office of Education, 26,067 students in Utah had fees waived in 1992-93, costing local districts more than $1.2 million. That translates into no cross-country team at Manti High School.

Perhaps there is some good that can come from the current problem of financing activity programs in the schools. It could cause us to take a harder look at which activities are the most important. It could also encourage school administrators to do some creative work with students who cannot afford to pay and in the process allow these students both dignity and participation.

This is what Superintendent Val Bush is trying to do in the Carbon School District. According to a Sun Advocate article dated Aug. 10 and sent to me by Lorin M. Bailey of Price, Carbon High School lost $20,000 last year because 12 percent of the students in the district qualify for fee waivers. This district plans to allow students to work for fees. School law apparently allows this except in special cases. In addition, students will not be asked to work off fees for books.

The Carbon District probably knows that it is swimming upstream. During 1992-93 only 46 of the 26,067 students who were granted fee waivers worked in lieu of a waiver. That is 0.18 percent, or less than two students working for every 1,000 fees waived.

It is true that having students work in lieu of paying fees does not replace the $1.3 million waived by the Utah schools. Working does, however, teach that nothing is free while at the same time allowing all students access to the activities of the school. It would be a shame if any students were turned away from any valuable school sponsored activity because of inability to pay.

The part of this that is sometimes hard to swallow is that in order not to turn needy students away, there will have to be fewer activities. The question before us is which activities should these be? If team sports are our priority, shouldn't we be just as concerned for those students who can't participate because of lack of ability as we are for those students who can't participate because of lack of money?