Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 20 No. 45
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

High school sports participation

The youth sports world has changed dramatically in the last decade, with the boom of travel teams, the shift toward earlier specialization and parents’ unrealistic emphasis on the quest for college scholarships all emerging as hot-button issues.

We wondered how that’s coloring the athletic choices those students make as they move through high school.
To find out, we dug into participation data gathered by the National Federation of High School Athletic Associations, which has collected head counts from its members for almost 50 years.

Some of those figures have been well-documented. Fewer high school boys are playing football, which from 2010 to 2015 saw participation fall by 5 percent or more in 19 states. Other trends, such as the shift in sports girls are playing at many schools, have received less attention.

Like politics, high school sports is inherently local. So we looked at this state by state.

The maps will give you an idea of where each of the eight most popular team sports has made strides or lost ground in the last five years, and also in the last decade.

Next, the bar graphic (example at right) shows the number of states that showed increased and decreased participation in select high school sports over the past five years and 10 years, and the number of states that increased or decreased by 10 percent or more over the same periods.

To read: Over 5 years, girls soccer saw 33 states increase participation, with 15 of those states increasing 10 percent or more. Fifteen states decreased, with 4 decreasing 10 percent or more.

Below that, you’ll find the top-10 states in each sport, ranked by number of students playing, and the states that have the largest percentage of boys or girls playing each sport, based on participation figures from the NFHS and high school enrollment figures taken from census data.

For example, 27 percent of high school boys in Mississippi and 25 percent of those in Alabama played football, a reminder that tradition dies hard in the Deep South. In Oklahoma — home to the Women’s College World Series — 12 percent of high school girls play softball, the highest rate in the country for that sport.

Because state associations in Alabama, Oklahoma and Washington, D.C., changed the way they tabulated data in recent years, they aren’t reflected in the five- and 10-year comparisons.

—Bill King