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High School Sports Participation Tops 7.8 Million

26 Aug, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Non-Traditional Sports, Including Archery and Riflery, are Growing; NFHS Says Survey Shows Strength of High School Sports Programs

Sports event planners – as well as sports commissions and event owners – are about to get some interesting side information.

Are travel teams and club sports going places? Not as much as you’d think if you ask the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). The organization’s annual High School Athletics Participation Survey for 2014-2015 shows that high school sports is the place to be for teenagers.

The number of participants in high school sports increased for the 26th consecutive year in 2014-15 – topping the 7.8 million mark for the first time – 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 7,807,047 – an increase of 11,389 from the previous year.

And we’re talking about high school sports here. Varsity sports. The school team kind of sports.

And that, says Bob Gardner, NFHS executive director, speaks volumes about where teens’ and families’ priorities are.

“Despite other out-of-school opportunities that exist in some sports, this year’s survey is yet another confirmation that our model of education-based sports within the high school setting is the No. 1 choice for boys and girls nationwide. We applaud the more than 19,000 high schools across the country for continuing to provide these important programs despite the funding challenges that exist in some areas.”

While boys participation dipped 8,682 from the previous year, girls participation increased for the 26th consecutive year with an additional 20,071 participants and set an all-time high of 3,287,735. The boys participation total of 4,519,312 is No. 2 all-time behind the 2013-14 total of 4,527,994.

Six of the top 10 girls sports registered increases in participation this past year, led by competitive spirit squads (5,170 additional participants) and cross country (3,495). While track and field remained the No. 1 sport for girls with 478,726 participants, volleyball (432,176) moved ahead of basketball (429,504) to secure the No. 2 spot. Ten years ago, basketball was No. 1 for girls, followed by track and field, and volleyball.

Among the top 10 boys sports, soccer registered the largest gain with an additional 15,150 participants, while wrestling (11,306) and 11-player football (9,617) had the largest declines in participation. Besides soccer, other top 10 boys sports that had increases in the number of participants were baseball (3,938) and basketball (425).

 “Overall, we are pleased with this year’s participation report indicating an increase for the 26th consecutive year,” said Gardner. “And while football participation dropped this past year, the decrease is not that significant when you consider more than 1.1 million boys and girls are involved in the sport at the high school level.

Eleven-player football remains the runaway leader in boys participants with 1,083,617, followed by outdoor track and field (578,632), basketball (541,479), baseball (486,567) and soccer (432,569). The remainder of the top 10 is wrestling (258,208), cross country (250,981), tennis (157,240), golf (148,823) and swimming/diving (137,087).

After outdoor track and field, volleyball and basketball, the remainder of the top 10 girls sports are soccer (375,681), fast-pitch softball (364,103), cross country (221,616), tennis (182,876), swimming/diving (166,838), competitive spirit squads (125,763) and lacrosse (84,785).

Among some of the non-traditional high school sports on this year’s survey, archery and riflery registered significant increases in participation. An additional 2,877 participants (boys and girls) in archery brings the overall total to 7,744 with schools in eight states sponsoring the sport.

Want a hero in the rise of archery? Look to Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, Cyclops from The Avengers or any of the great archers in the "Lord of the Rings" movies.

Riflery was up 1,010 participants for a total of 4,238 with competition in 10 states. It is also showing growth at the college level.

Also, while boys wrestling was down by more than 11,000 this past year, the number of girls participating in the sport increased by 1,592 for a total of 11,496.

The emergence of sports for non-traditional athletes is a trend that NFHS officials expect to climb. Outside of the expected varsity arena, many teens are finding their niche. Ultimate, for example, is a growing sport and with its recent acceptance by the IOC, more of that growth is expected. But it’s far from the only one.

“Bowling is another sport that continues to grow,” said Bruce Howard, communications and publications director of NFHS. “Fifteen years ago, five states held a state championship in bowling; today, 18 states have a state championship. We think bowling will continue to grow because, as previously noted, it can attract a whole new group of students who aren’t currently involved in other sports.”

Another non-traditional high school sport showing growth is bass fishing; the recent tournament put on by B.A.S.S. is proof of that.

The top 10 states by participants remained in the same order as last year, with Texas and California topping the list with 804,598 and 797,101, respectively. The remainder of the top 10 was New York (389,475), Illinois (340,972), Ohio (319,929), Pennsylvania (319,562), Michigan (295,660), New Jersey (279,377), Florida (267,954) and Minnesota (235,243).

The participation survey has been compiled since 1971 by the NFHS through numbers it receives from its member associations. The complete 2014-15 High School Athletics Participation Survey is attached in PDF format and will be posted soon on the NFHS website at www.nfhs.org.

The NFHS, based in Indianapolis, Indiana, is the national leadership organization for high school sports and performing arts activities. Since 1920, the NFHS has led the development of education-based interscholastic sports and performing arts activities that help students succeed in their lives. The NFHS sets direction for the future by building awareness and support, improving the participation experience, establishing consistent standards and rules for competition, and helping those who oversee high school sports and activities. The NFHS writes playing rules for 16 sports for boys and girls at the high school level. Through its 50 member state associations and the District of Columbia, the NFHS reaches more than 19,000 high schools and 11 million participants in high school activity programs, including more than 7.7 million in high school sports. As the recognized national authority on interscholastic activity programs, the NFHS conducts national meetings; sanctions interstate events; offers online publications and services for high school coaches and officials; sponsors professional organizations for high school coaches, officials, speech and debate coaches, and music adjudicators; serves as the national source for interscholastic coach training; and serves as a national information resource of interscholastic athletics and activities. For more information, visit the NFHS website at www.nfhs.org.

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