Participation in high school sports declined in 2018-19 for the first time in 30 years, according to the annual “High School Athletics Participation Survey” conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
The 2018-19 total of 7,937,491 participants is a decline of 43,395 from the 2017-18 school year when the number of participants in high school sports reached an all-time record high of 7,980,886.
This year’s total – the third-highest ever – consisted of 4,534,758 boys and 3,402,733 girls, according to the figures obtained from the 51-member state high school associations, which includes the District of Columbia.
The last decline in sports participation numbers occurred during the 1988-89 school year.
“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 Dr. Karissa Niehoff, NFHS executive director. “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 biggest contributors to the decline were the two longstanding and popular sports of football and basketball. Participation in boys 11-player football declined by 30,829 participants to 1,006,013 – the lowest mark since 1,002,734 in the 1999-2000 school year.
The top 10 states by participants remained the same in 2018-19. Texas and California topped the list again with 825,924 and 824,709 participants, respectively, followed by New York (369,266), Ohio (339,158), Illinois (333,838), Pennsylvania (316,429), Florida (308,173), Michigan (292,947), New Jersey (281,058) and Minnesota (240,487).
Only Texas, California and Minnesota reported higher figures than the previous year.
Four of the top 10 boys sports registered increases in participation, topped by track and field with an additional 5,257 participants. Other top 10 boys sports that added participants last year were soccer (2,715), wrestling (1,877) and tennis (1,163).
Among girls top 10 sports, volleyball was the front-runner with an additional 6,225 participants, followed by soccer (3,623) and lacrosse (3,164).
The participation survey has been compiled in its current form by the NFHS since 1971 through numbers it receives from its member state associations.