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Blog: High Schools Reach Record Participation

Prying money loose to keep high school athletic facilities in good repair can be like - well, just go ahead and pick your trite simile: getting blood out of a potato, milking a turnip, herding slugs, etc.

But as long as you're making your case, there's some good hard evidence to throw onto the bargaining table - more high school students than ever are playing sports, and those students will need good facilities and proper equipment if the school wants them to stay in the game.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, which tracks such information, participation in high school sports increased for the 22nd consecutive school year in 2010-11. In its annual High School Athletics Participation Survey, NFHS recorded a total number of 7,667,955 kids playing sports. Boys' and girls' participation figures also reached respective all-time highs with 4,494,406 boys and 3,173,549 girls participating in 2010-11 - an overall increase of 39,578 participants from 2009-10.

Cross-country (seventh most popular sport in terms of participation) and outdoor track and field (second) gained the most participants in boys' sports last year, with increases of 7,340 and 7,179, respectively. Among girls' sports, the emerging sport of lacrosse (10th most popular, with 74,927 participants) led the way with an additional 6,155 participants, an increase of 9 percent from the previous year. Outdoor track and field saw the second biggest gains.

Although the rise in girls' participation numbers was not as large this past year (NFHS says this is caused in part by significant drops in competitive spirit numbers in two states), the percentage increase rate has more than doubled the rate for boys during the past 20 years (63 percent to 31 percent). Twenty years ago, girls constituted 36 percent of the total number of participants; this past year, that number had climbed to 41 percent. In Oklahoma, the number of girls' participants actually exceeded the number of boys this past year (44,112 to 42,694).

Something else intriguing? The NFHS has been compiling these numbers since 1971, making this the fourth decade of recording school sports data. That's a lot to record, and a lot of changes. During the 1971-72 school year, more than 3.6 million boys played some sort of high school sport - and fewer than 300,000 girls. Adapted sports? Not even a possibility. It makes for interesting reading - even if you're in the enviable position of not needing money to update your facilities or equipment.

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