High school sports received a double dose of bad news on Monday when the annual participation survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations showed a decline in sports participation for the first time in 30 years for the 2018-19 season.
Leading the decline was another drop in football participation, with 11-man football dropping by 30,829 to 1,006,013, the lowest mark since the 1999-2000 school year. It’s the fifth consecutive year of declining football participation.
Overall sports participation was 7,937,491, a decline of 43,395 from 2017-18.
New Hampshire saw a slight decline, dropping overall from 39th among all states a year ago to 40th in this latest NFHS survey.
“We know from recent surveys that the number of kids involved in youth sports has been declining, and a decline in the number of public school students has been predicted for a number of years, so we knew our ‘streak’ might end someday,” said Karissa Niehoff, NFHS executive director, in a statement. “The data from this year’s survey serves as a reminder that we have to work even harder in the coming years to involve more students in these vital programs – not only athletics but performing arts programs as well.”
The California Interscholastic Federation gave a preview of Monday’s survey earlier this month when its survey showed that football participation in California had declined for the fourth consecutive year. More than 12,000 students no longer play football.
Ron Nocetti, in his first year as executive director of the CIF, said, “When we look at our football numbers, we want to break that trend and see them go back up. I would be more concerned if our overall participation levels were going down by the same amount. Our student athletes aren’t leaving sports. They’re choosing other sports.”
No one in the CIF knows for sure the reason for the football participation decline. They believe part of it is the attention that has been given to concussion concerns, but there’s also speculation on the growing trend of athletes focusing on a single sport.
Nationally, combined basketball participation was down 23,944. The girls’ basketball total of 399,067 is the lowest since 1992-93. Much of the drop is attributed to a decline of 25,000 in Texas. Track added 5,257 participants.
In New Hampshire, 23,271 boys and 19,402 girls participated in high school sports in 2018-19. The total — 42,673 — is 2,186 fewer than the previous school year.
Vermont ranked lowest of all the states in this year’s survey, with 13,185 combined participants.