A survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) found that total participation in high school sports has declined for the first time in three decades.
In a press release announcing the survey results, the NFHS said that the total number of participants in high school athletics in 2018-19 was 7,937,491 — down from a record high the year before, when 7,980,886 high school students participated in sports.
Though the reported participation number was still among the top three the survey ever recorded, the decline was the first since the 1988-89 school year.
“We know from recent surveys that the number of kids involved in youth sports has been declining, and a decline in the number of public school students has been predicted for a number of years, so we knew our ‘streak’ might end someday,” said NFHS executive director Dr. Karissa Niehoff. “The data from this year’s survey serves as a reminder that we have to work even harder in the coming years to involve more students in these vital programs — not only athletics but performing arts programs, as well.”
The survey included data from all 51 state high school associations (a figure which includes the District of Columbia). Among the sports registering the largest declines were 11-player football and basketball.
11-player football saw 30,829 fewer participants in 2018-19, though 14,247 schools now offer the sport.
“While we recognize that the decline in football participation is due, in part, to concerns about the risk of injury, we continue to work with our member state associations, the nation’s high schools and other groups to make the sport as safe as possible,” Niehoff said. “Every state has enacted rules that limit the amount of contact before the season and during practices, and every state has concussion protocols and laws in place, so we continue to believe that the sport is as safe as it has ever been.”
As for basketball, girls’ basketball was the greatest contributor to the overall decline, as the total number of girls’ basketball participants — 399,067 — was the lowest figure for the sport since the 1992-93 school year. Boys’ basketball also saw a decline.
Some sports, however, were risers according to the survey: Unified and adapted sports programs grew, as did soccer, wrestling, tennis, volleyball and lacrosse.