Whether they're cheering on their team or booing a ref's call, the fans in the stands at high school games are doing one thing consistently - showing up in big numbers. And whether you're optimistic and attribute that to a lot of school spirit, or whether you're pessimistic and blame it on an economy that has us all searching for less expensive entertainment, it's still a great trend.
The National Federation of State High School Associations has been tracking the numbers of high school athletes for more than 40 years now, but this is the first time it has compiled statistics on those who watch them. According to this first survey, in the school year 2009-10, more fans attended high school basketball and football events - 336 million - than the same sports at the college and professional levels combined (133 million).
And that's just basketball and football. Attendance at events in the top 16 high school sports in student-athlete participation during the 2009-10 school year was approximately 510 million - 468 million during regular-season events and 42 million for state association playoff contests. We're talking 10 million spectators at high school wrestling contests. And 1.3 million people watched high school golf that year. High school golf.
My incredibly professional take on that? Wow. Especially coming at a time when so many researchers have documented skyrocketing childhood obesity rates, it's some of the best news I could hear. More spectators, particularly when they're students, can mean more kids getting excited about sports, and by extension, more kids trying out for sports. After all, there's no bigger motivation than the idea of a crowd of parents, siblings and peers cheering you on. And health clubs, among others, can use this opportunity to market to teens, whether though special memberships that make use of after-school hours, or through sports-specific training and clinics held prior to tryouts for varsity programs. Either way, it could spur more teens to make a commitment to fitness.
And it's really great news for athletic directors, booster clubs and others who have been trying to lobby their administrations for funding to build better spectator facilities, including bleachers, concessions stands, parking lots and rest rooms. After all, a positive game-day experience doesn't just depend on a win on the field.