HS Football Participation Dropping Rapidly, Could Be Less Than 1M Players by 2020


It’s been said that baseball may be America’s pastime, but football is America’s passion.

That of course is a matter of opinion, but there’s no denying that the gridiron has the ability to inspire great emotion. Countless kids have dreamed about stepping onto storied arenas like Lambeau or Soldier Field, and feeling the rush of being handed the ball with a shot at the end zone as the crowd cheers.

Sports teaches many lessons — teamwork, hard work, perseverance — and high school football fields across America have long been ground zero for young men coming of age.

But that may be changing. While more high schoolers are playing organized sports than ever before, the number of young people signing up for J.V. and varsity football is dropping faster than a missed Tom Brady Super Bowl catch.

“Football participation peaked in American high schools in the 2009-2010 school year at 1.1 million players,” NBC News reported Friday, based on data from the National Federation of State High School Associations.

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“Since then, the number of kids playing high school football has fallen 7 percent, and the decline has accelerated during the past two years. During the school year ending in spring 2018, participation fell in 40 states,” the report continued.

Why? Nobody knows for certain, but some experts believe that rising awareness about concussions and their link to contact sports like football could be the reason.

The high school football participation peak in 2010 “was less than two years after stories first emerged about the tragic toll of concussions in the sport,” NBC reported.

Not long ago, advice like “walk it off” was routine and terms like “chronic traumatic encephalopathy” were completely foreign. An increased awareness about CTE and a realization that hard hits at even the high school level can have lifelong effects are making parents take a second look at youth football.

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“Moms and dads are scared,” Glenda White, one of many organizers of youth football programs in Texas, told NBC. “(A)ll they see is concussions and football.”

“(Concussions) are coming at junior high. They are coming at the senior high level,” she said.

At the same time, it’s worth wondering if the politicization of sport may have a hand in the decline as well.

Headlines about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem — or being arrested so often that it’s jokingly called the “National Felons League” — are everywhere in recent years. That has bled over into high school sports too, with protests and controversy now fairly common even at the youth level.

It’s no secret that football tends to be popular in blue-collar, right-leaning areas of the country. “God, family, football” is a serious description of life in many parts of the heartland … and it’s possible that more and more kids and parents are fed up with politics pervading even local games.

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Football is such a part of Americana that it’s hard to separate the two.

It would be a true shame if future generations never felt the glow of the Friday night lights, but time will tell. If that happens, today’s anthem kneelers will have to bear some of the blame.

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Benjamin Arie is an independent journalist and writer. He has personally covered everything ranging from local crime to the U.S. president as a reporter in Michigan before focusing on national politics. Ben frequently travels to Latin America and has spent years living in Mexico.