A Washington community is seeing a dramatic decline in the number of girls turning out for varsity and junior varsity basketball, and it's indicative of a nation-wide trend.
“In the last three years, it’s changed dramatically,” Lakewood High School girls coach Chris Walster told the HeraldNet. “I can still remember the days not too long ago where we couldn’t promise every kid they were going to be on the team. We were going to make cuts just like our guys team.”
Walster said that's all changed. This year he tried everything just shy of bribery to get girls to turn out. Lakewood’s JV team this year had just seven players and as a result was forced to cancel three games.
And the trend isn’t limited to just Lakewood.
“It’s alarming,” Edmonds-Woodway athletics director Angie McGuire told the HeraldNet. “I think everybody involved in trying to build and promote and grow girls basketball is concerned about the numbers this year. And I know that the coaches and athletic directors at those schools are concerned about it.”
A 2019 report released by the NFHS said the number of girls playing basketball nationally during the 2018-19 school year — 399,067 — was the fewest since the 1992-93 school year.
While women’s basketball continues to gain in popularity, the declining participation numbers at the high school level are baffling, but single-sport specialization may be part of the problem.
“It’s harder for girls to play in other sports if their (main) sport is year-round,” McGuire said. “I’ve even seen that in elementary school where kids just cannot even continue to play two sports because of the commitment they’ve made to select programs.”
Basketball has also had to compete with the rise in popularity of sports like volleyball.
“With girls, sports specialization is huge. It used to be that your best athletes played multiple sports, and you hope that that is still the case,” McGuire said. “… The number of girls that are playing (both) volleyball and basketball now has greatly diminished with the increased number of club volleyball teams because their season goes through the high school basketball season. There might be a few girls that can play both club volleyball and for their high school basketball team, but for the most part the girls that are playing club volleyball aren’t playing basketball.”
McGuire notes that communication and working together with local youth programs is incredibly important.
“I’ve had conversations with athletic directors and coaches from around the league about the numbers,” McGuire said. “It’s something that people are definitely aware of and definitely talking about what are some of those things that we can be doing in our communities and things that we could be doing at the high school level to try to remedy that.”