More players join high school sports nationally, but football declines again

As the academic and athletic school years begin across the nation:

A good sign for U.S. youth conditioning: For the 29th consecutive year, participation in high school sports has increased, especially among girls.

An ominous sign for football: For the second consecutive year the number of boys in 11-man football has declined. And so slightly have the number of schools fielding such teams.

According to the latest numbers from the National Federation of State High School Associations, the total number of students participating in high school sports was 7,979,986. The federation writes the rules of competition for most high school sports and activities.

This included 4,564,680 boys and 3,415,306 girls, a record for girls and an increase of 15,000.

Football remains by far the most popular high school sport. Last season 1,035,942 high school students played 11-player football. That’s a decline of 21,465, or 2 percent, from the previous year, which had seen a 2.5 percent drop.

Additionally, the number of schools offering that sport fell by 20 to 14,079.

The association’s executive director, Karissa Niehoff, said:

We are encouraged that the decline in high school football was slowed, due in part, to our efforts in reducing the risk of injury in the sport.

While there may be other reasons that students elect not to play football, we have attempted to assure student-athletes and their parents that thanks to the concussion protocols and rules in place in every state in the country, the sport of football is as safe as it ever has been.

Besides the injury factor, the once bright glow of professional football as at least a sports dream for youths has dimmed considerably.

The National Football League has been the setting for some notorious thuggery on-field and off and, especially last year, an emotional national controversy over players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest injustice.

NFL TV ratings dropped sharply. You’ll likely see some comments on this post from former fans vowing not to watch again this year — or ever — because those players’ actions and the teams’ and league’s acquiescence are seen as insulting to the flag and disrespectful to a country and fan base that has made them multi-millionaires.

The No. 2 most popular participatory high school sport is track and field with 600,097 boys. For girls, it’s the top sport with 488,097. Among sports for boys, soccer had the largest gain with 6,128 additional participants.

Ranked by high school sports participants, the top 10 states largely reflected the top states in population. The list remained unchanged from the 2016 ranking with Texas on top (824,619 participants), California (819,625), New York (378,065), and Ohio (347,567).

Then comes Illinois (338,848), Pennsylvania (319,867), Florida (311,361), Michigan (296,625), New Jersey (281,800) and Minnesota (240,433).

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