High School Sports Participation Up for 27th Consecutive Year
By Dave Ramont
When you were in high school, do you recall the option to participate in organized bocce, sailing, air riflery or rock climbing? What about squash, rodeo, canoe paddling or ultimate Frisbee? These are some of the non-traditional sports listed in the annual High School Athletics Participation survey, which shows that in 2015-16, the number of participants in high school sports increased for the 27th consecutive year.
The survey has been conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) since 1971, through figures it gathers from its 51 member state high school associations, which includes the District of Columbia. The record number of total participants reached 7,868,900—up almost 62,000 from the previous year.
It was thought that enrollment numbers in football might drop due to growing concerns over concussions. But after the previous year's decline of 10,000 participants in boy's 11-player football, 2015 was nearly identical to 2014, losing just 309 players. About half the states showed a slight decline in football participation, the other half tallying slight increases. And if you combine the total participation in boys and girls six, eight, nine, and 11-player football, the number of participants rose slightly to 1,114,391.
Bob Gardner, NFHS executive director, said they're very encouraged by the news that football remains quite popular, pointing out that, over the past 10 years, the NFHS and their member state associations have taken significant steps to minimize the risks associated with football and all high school sports. "With the adoption of state laws and protocols for concussion management in place, we continue to believe that the sport of football at the high school level is as safe as it has been since the first rules were written in 1932, and we believe this year's participation report is confirmation of that belief."
Another encouraging statistic revealed that participation in adaptive sports also increased by more than 1,000 participants in 2015-16, reaching 9,491, with schools now offering these programs for students with disabilities in 12 states.
Total numbers show that after declining the previous year, boy's participation rose by 25,000—hitting an all-time high of 4,544,574. Girl's participation climbed nearly 37,000, increasing for the 27th straight year and reaching a record 3,324,326.
The top 10 boys' sports in terms of participants were as follows: football (11-player), track and field (outdoor), basketball, baseball, soccer, cross country, wrestling, tennis, golf, swimming and diving. The largest increases in participants were in track and field, soccer, cross country, basketball and baseball. Wrestling registered a decline of 7,555 participants.
The girls, however, showed an increase in wrestling numbers, adding 2,000 participants. Their top 10 sports remained the same as the previous year: track and field (outdoor), volleyball, basketball, soccer, softball (fast-pitch), cross country, tennis, swimming and diving, competitive spirit squads and lacrosse.
Texas topped the list of participants with 809,075, followed by California, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, New Jersey and Minnesota.