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Feature Story

September 2017


High School Sports Participation Up, Nearing 8 Million

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By Deborah L. Vence

For the 28th straight year, there has been increased participation in high school sports, now nearing the 8 million mark, according to the annual High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).

Based on figures from the 51 NFHS member state high school associations, which includes the District of Columbia, the number of participants in high school sports reached an all-time high of 7,963,535. The increase of 94,635 participants from 2015-16 is the largest one-year jump in overall participation since the 2008-09 school year.

With increases in all of the top 10 participatory sports, the number of girls participating reached an all-time high of 3,400,297. The increase of 75,971 from the previous year is the largest one-year jump since the 2000-01 sports participation report. Competitive spirit registered the largest increase among girls' sports with an additional 18,712 participants, followed by outdoor track and field (8,508), volleyball (8,470), soccer (6,810) and lacrosse (5,423).

"As we celebrate the 45th anniversary of Title IX this year, this report on girls' participation numbers underscores the significance of that important decision in 1972," stated Bob Gardner, NFHS executive director, in an NFHS news release. "It is great to see an ever-increasing number of girls taking advantage of that opportunity to compete in high school sports."

Seven of the top 10 boys' sports saw increases from the previous year, led by soccer (9,912), outdoor track and field (9,003) and cross country (8,580). Overall participation for boys in 2016-17 was 4,563,238, which represents an increase of 18,664 from the previous year.

However, participation in 11-player football was down 25,901 from the previous year, although the numbers in 6- and 8-player football were up from the 2015-16 season. The overall number of participants in football (6, 8, 9 and 11 player) in 2016-17 was 1,086,748, down 25,503 from the 1,112,251 in the 2015-16 season.

While the number of participants in high school football declined, the number of schools offering the sport increased by 52 schools in 11-player—from 14,047 to 14,099—and by nine schools in 6-, 8- and 9-player—from 1,349 to 1,358. With 14,099 high schools offering 11-player football, the decrease of 25,901 participants amounts to fewer than two individuals (1.8) per school, and an overall decrease of 2.5 percent.

Football still remains the No. 1 participatory sport for boys at the high school level by a large margin. Track and field comes in second with 600,136 participants, followed by basketball (550,305), baseball (491,790) and soccer (450,234).

This year's survey indicated, too, that more than 60 different sports were offered by high schools nationwide, from judo and kayaking, to fencing and rugby, to snowboarding and rodeo. Some of the more popular non-traditional high school sports were badminton (17,184), archery (9,767), crew (5,179) and fencing (4,100).

The top 10 states by participants remained the same. However, Florida moved ahead of Michigan to the seventh position this year. Texas and California topped the list again with 834,558 and 800,364 participants, respectively, followed by New York (367,849), Illinois (341,387), Ohio (340,146), Pennsylvania (319,153), Florida (310,567), Michigan (295,647), New Jersey (283,655) and Minnesota (239,289).