In the two states with the highest number of high school student-athletes in the country — Texas and California — football is floundering.
High school sports participation may be at an all-time high in California, topping 808,500, with notable increases in boys’ and girls’ swimming and diving, boys’ and girls’ golf and girls’ wrestling. But the number of football players continues to drop, reports The Modesto Bee.
After seeing an increase to 103,725 in 2015, participation last year fell to 94,286, which was down from 97,079 in 2016. Football coaches in central California cite concussion fears among parents, as well as an overall lack of interest that is resulting in fewer players at the youth level.
“Interest is never regained or gained if they didn’t play at a young age,” Scott Edwards, head football coach at Central Valley High School in Ceres, told the paper.
Jason McCoy, coach at Gregori High School, was more pointed in his explanation for the decline: “It takes a special person to play football. There are so many kids these days playing video games, on their phones or social media. As a whole, this generation is soft.”
In Texas, where “Friday night lights” has become a noun as much as a way of life, longtime Harrold High School six-player football coach Craig Templeton was forced to cancel the Hornets’ varsity season for the second straight year.
According to the Wichita Falls Times Record News:
The small Wilbarger County town [located about two-and-a-half hours north of the Dallas-Fort Worth area] only had five boys who had committed to playing in 2018, so the Hornets will only be fielding a junior high football program this fall.
Templeton, who doubles as the school’s principal, said Harrold should have three or four additional players next fall, so he’s confident in the sport’s return at the high school level.
Templeton knew Harrold’s 2018 fate was shaky, which is why the Hornets only had five games scheduled instead of the usual 10.
The situation in Harrold exemplifies a statewide problem. In a December 2017 article titled “Friday Night Lights-Out,”Texas Monthly noted that football participation has been slipping and sliding for years. Between the 2000 and 2016 season, football participation rates fell by nearly 25 percent, according to the University Interscholastic League(UIL), which oversee high school sports in Texas.
“I’m not hearing from parents around the state saying they’re afraid for their children to play,” UIL Director Charles Breithaupt told the magazine. “But maybe they’re speaking with their feet and not showing up.”
Breithaupt seemed more concerned about athletic specialization and the rise of club sports that provide athletic alternatives to high school programs. He also indicated that changing demographics — more than half of public school students in the state are Hispanics — are impacting football’s number. “When we talk to them about football, they’re thinking soccer,” he said.
Nationally, participation in 11-player football for the 2016-17 season (the most-recent academic year for which statistics are available) was down 25,901 from the previous year, although the numbers in six- and eight-player football were up from the 2015-16 season, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
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 six-, eight- and nine-player football — from 1,349 to 1,358. And the sport remains the No. 1 participatory sport for boys at the high school level by a large margin. Track and field ranks second with 600,136 participants.
“While we are concerned when any sport experiences a decline in participation, the numbers do not substantiate that schools are dropping the sport of football,” Bob Gardner, longtime executive director of the NFHS said at the time; he retired Aug. 1.