After losing an average of just more than one player per school over a five-year period, Tennessee high school football saw a participation increase of nearly 500 players last season.
According to numbers submitted by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association to the National Federation of State High School Associations, 23,003 students played 11-man football for 349 programs in 2013.
That number was up from 22,504 in 2012.
The number of participants dropped by 371 from 2009-13, according to the NFHS in an article on nationalhsfootball.com. Tennessee was among 36 states that had experienced a participation decline over that five-year period.
Bernard Childress, executive director of the TSSAA, said the dropoff wasn’t alarming and the increase was not shocking.
“When you look at 371 kids, over 349 schools – you’re literally looking at one student per school deciding not to play,” he said. “That’s not the cause of alarm at all.
“We travel the state and go from place to place, and everybody’s talking about more kids coming out and playing, and not just football. I think our participation numbers are going up. Those numbers don’t deviate a lot. You’ve got about 110,000 to 115,000 total participants and 20,000 to 30,000 more in middle schools, and we always seem to fall right in there.”
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Cultural issues among high school-age youth and potential safety issues are pointed to as factors in numbers dropping nationally to below 1.1 million participants last year – the first time since 2006 that participation has been that low.
“Any time we have a football meeting or any athletic meeting, we’re all about student participation and student safety first and foremost, in every sport,” Childress said. “We’ve not heard parents saying ‘we’re not going to allow our kids to participate because you all aren’t doing what you can to make the game safe’.”
“I think people realize we’re doing everything we can to make the game as safe as possible.”
The TSSAA, as do the large majority of states across the country, has a sports medicine advisory committee that serves as a consultation board for health and safety issues such as concussion risks, heat and dehydration concerns and other matters on a sport-by-sport basis.
“We’ve all got medical professionals helping us at the state and national levels,” Childress said.
Reach Maurice Patton at 615-259-8018 and on Twitter @mopatton_sports.