By the Numbers: High School Sports Skyrocketing in Popularity
9 Aug, 2017By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Travel teams may be bringing in the big money, but high school sports have some impressive numbers of their own. The 2016-2017 school year bears that out, with an increase of nearly 100,000 student athletes over that of the previous year.
The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the acknowledged governing body for high school sports, released its High School Athletics Participation Survey this week. And those numbers are as impressive as any economic impact survey. Read on:
7,963,535: The total number of student participants in high school sports
94,635: The increase over last year’s number
28: How many times participation has increased over the years
2008-2009: The last time such an overall jump was recorded
18,712: The increase of girls participating in competitive spirit squads alone over last year
144,243: The total number of girls on those squads
16 years: The last time such a big jump in participation in any sport was recorded
More gains: Other girls’ sports recording increased participation were outdoor track and field (a gain of 8,508 players), volleyball (8,470), soccer (6,810) and lacrosse (5,423). Since these sports appear in the Olympics, the much-vaunted 'Games Bounce' is seen as a factor in growth.
25,901: The decrease in the number of boys playing 11-man football since the previous school year. (Of note: 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.) And we may see another drop next year, given the fact that concussion fears are in full evidence following the release of a study on brain injury to NFL players.
1,057,407: Number of boys still participating in 11-player football, making it the biggest boys’ sport overall.
834,558 and 800,364: Participation in high school sports in Texas and California, respectively (always the states with the largest participation numbers). Other notable state participation comes from 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)
60-plus: Number of different sports 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)
1971: When NFHS began tracking sports participation in high schools, back when there were 3,666,917 boys playing and only 294,015 girls. (Thank you, Title IX).
So what can event owners make of this? High school sports are growing at all levels, and parents are delighted to let their kids participate. After all, it costs less to participate on the high school varsity or junior varsity team than it does to have a place on a travel team, keeps kids close to home and allows them the pride of representing their school. Can event owners and national governing bodies keep up? Perhaps – as long as they understand what it is that kids value – or perhaps what they can offer that high schools can’t.
Want insights into all the sports and their growth? Download a full copy of the report here.