The National Federation of State High School Associations came out with its annual survey of sports participation today. For the 25th consecutive year, the numbers of high school students participating in sports rose. That really isn’t a surprise, particularly since the population in the USA continues to rise.
But, what was interesting is the number of athletes participating in football last season rose for the first time in five years. With the greater concern in recent years about football-related concussions, that seems almost contradictory.
According to the survey, 6,607 more boys participated in football last season than they had the year before, pushing the total to 1,093,234. In addition, a total of 1,715 girls participated in 11-player football, an increase of 184 from the previous year.
“We are pleased with the increase in participation numbers in the sport of football for the 2013-14 school year,” Bob Gardner, NFHS executive director said in a statement. “With the precautions that are in place nationwide to address concussions in all high school sports, including football, we have maintained that the risk of injury is as low as it ever has been. Certainly, this rise in football numbers is a confirmation of those beliefs and indicates the strong continued interest nationwide in high school football.”
Scott Hallenbeck, the executive director of USA Football, said the increased numbers may be a sign that improved safety programs are bringing more players back to the field.
“In our sport, we’re seeing education change for the better how coaches are prepared, players are taught, parents are informed and safety is addressed,” Hallenbeck said. “How we teach the game has evolved, and the rise in high school participation may reflect this, and there’s more to be done.”
While football continues to be the No. 1 sport, baseball had the biggest gains among the top 10 boys sports, followed by football and soccer. Among the top 10 girls sports, volleyball was the biggest gainer, though track and field continued to have the highest numbers overall.
Lacrosse, once considered a fringe sport popular only in the northeast, continues to make gains in high schools. It is now the 10th most popular girls sports and 11th most popular boys sport, according to the survey.