High school sports participation drops for first time in 30 years

High school sports participation drops for first time in 30 years

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Participation in high school sports nationwide fell in 2018-19 for the first time in 30 years, and just three states showed higher numbers, according to a survey released Monday by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

The increase in Minnesota, with 240,487 sports participants, amounted to 54 more student-athletes from 2017-18, essentially flat growth.

Nationally, the 2018-19 total of 7,937,491 participants fell 43,395 from the year before, when high school sports participation reached a record high of 7,980,886, the organization said. Declines in football and basketball were the biggest contributors.

The last decline in sports participation numbers occurred during the 1988-89 school year.

"We know from recent surveys that the number of kids involved in youth sports has been declining, and a decline in the number of public school students has been predicted for a number of years, so we knew our 'streak' might end someday," Karissa Niehoff, NFHS executive director, said in a news release. "The data from this year's survey serves as a reminder that we have to work even harder in the coming years to involve more students in these vital programs – not only athletics but performing arts programs as well."

Participation in boys' 11-player football — the nation's most popular boys' sport — declined by 30,829 participants to 1,006,013, the lowest level since the 1999-2000 school year, the release said. It was the fifth consecutive year of decline, though the number of schools offering the sport remained steady.

Comparing figures from the past two years, the average number of boys involved in 11-player football on a per-school basis dropped from 73 to 70, which would include freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams, the release said.

Niehoff said, "While we recognize that the decline in football participation is due, in part, to concerns about the risk of injury, we continue to work with our member state associations, the nation's high schools and other groups to make the sport as safe as possible. Every state has enacted rules that limit the amount of contact before the season and during practices, and every state has concussion protocols and laws in place, so we continue to believe that the sport is as safe as it has ever been.''

Combined basketball participation was down 23,944 (13,340 girls, 10,604 boys), and the girls' basketball total of 399,067 is the lowest since the 1992-93 school year. The news release traced the decline in girls' basketball participation to a 25,000-drop in Texas during the last two years. Excluding the Texas numbers, girls' participation has been in the range of 430,000 for the past seven years.

Among the most popular boys' sports, track and field, soccer, wrestling and tennis showed increases last season. Among the top 10 girls' sports, volleyball, soccer and lacrosse were the biggest gainers. The most popular girls' sport nationwide is track and field, with 488,267 participants.

The top 10 states by participants remained the same in 2018-19. Texas and California topped the list again with 825,924 and 824,709 participants, respectively, followed by New York (369,266), Ohio (339,158), Illinois (333,838), Pennsylvania (316,429), Florida (308,173), Michigan (292,947), New Jersey (281,058) and Minnesota (240,487). Only Texas, California and Minnesota reported higher figures than the previous year.

The participation survey has been compiled in its current form by the NFHS since 1971 through numbers it receives from its member state associations.

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