Good news and bad news for high school sports fans in California. The good news? There have never been more scholastic athletes participating in prep sports. The bad news? Fewer and fewer of them are choosing to chase their sporting dreams while wearing football pads.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, a total of 808,557 California high school students participated in scholastic sports in the 2017-18 season, according to California Interscholastic Federation data. That’s an all-time high. At the same time, football participation dropped for a third-consecutive season, falling nearly three percent from the 2016-17 school year.
“I think we’ve declined about three percent each year,” CIF Executive Director Roger Blake told the Times. “It’s been a steady decline but reflects what we anticipated based on youth sports numbers. I anticipate the decline will slowly stop.”
That statement says all the right things, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t significant reason for concern from both empirical data and anecdotal evidence. The most recent dip meant that fewer than 95,000 students took part in competitive football in 2017-18; the actual number was 94,286. Even some traditional power programs are having to scale back the levels of teams they field. According to the Times, Oaks Christian — the alma mater of NFL veteran Cassius Marsh and a host of former players including quarterback Jimmy Clausen, wide receiver Jordan Payton and linebacker Casey Matthews — eliminated its freshman team because only 18 new students came out to participate.
Despite the continued decline, football remains by far the most popular boys student sport. Track and field had the second highest gross number of participants with 56,606 competitors. Soccer led the way among girls.
Still, the headliner was the split between overall participation and the continued decline of football in the Golden State. Only time will tell if Blake’s assumptions prove correct, or whether the continued advance of soccer, lacrosse and other sports pull some traditional football players away from the sport that practically defines high school Americana.