Student Well-Being

Survey: High School Sports Participation at All-Time High

By Bryan Toporek — August 23, 2011 2 min read
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In news that won’t soothe those who feel that K-12 schools already put too much emphasis on athletics, the number of high school students playing sports reached an all-time high this past school year, according to the annual High School Athletics Participation Survey

conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations, which was released today.

The data come from the 50 state high school athletic/activity associations, plus the District of Columbia, and show that a total of 7,667,955 student-athletes participated in high school sports in the 2010-11 school year, an increase of 39,578 over 2009-10. In comparison, 91,624 more student-athletes participated in high school sports in the 2009-10 school year than in 2008-09. This was the 22nd straight year that there’s been an overall increase in student-athlete athletic participation in high schools, according to the NFHS.

“While the overall increase was not as much as we’ve seen in the past few years, we are definitely encouraged with these totals given the financial challenges facing our nation’s high schools,” said Bob Gardner, NFHS executive director, in a press release. “The benefits of education-based athletics at the high school level are well-documented, and we encourage communities throughout the nation to keep these doors of opportunity open.”

“Based on the survey, 55.5 percent of students enrolled in high schools participate in athletics,” Gardner continued, “which emphasizes and reinforces the idea that high school sports continue to have a significant role in student involvement in schools across the country.”

Not surprisingly, 11-player football sits at the top of the participation list, with a total of 1,108,441 student-athletes having played in the 2010-11 school year. Believe it or not, that number represents a slight dip from the 2009-10 school year, where 1,109,279 student-athletes participated in football.

Track and field (outdoor) didn’t trail far behind football, with 579,302 males and 475,265 females recorded as participants from last season, for a total of 1,054,567 student-athletes. Basketball also attracted a sum of more than 900,000 male and female student-athletes this past school year.

Worth watching: The gap between male baseball participants (471,025) and male soccer participants (398,351) narrowed by 7,441 this past school year. (Residual effects of the 2010 World Cup, perhaps?)

Among girls sports, lacrosse experienced the greatest one-year increase in student-athletes, as an additional 6,155 girls (increase of 9 percent) took part in lacrosse this past school year. As a result, female lacrosse became one of the top 10 most played female sports in high school for the first time, moving past golf.

When breaking down high school athletics participation by state, the top 15 states held their spots from last year, with Texas, California, and New York at the top, in that order. Texas and California each had more than 700,000 student-athletes participating in high school sports last year; New York, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan each had over 300,000 last year. Of course, these are the most populous states, too.

And for all the Title IX watchdogs out there, you’ll likely appreciate this note from the NFHS press release:

Although the rise in girls' participation numbers was not as large this past year (due, in part, to significant drops in competitive-spirit numbers in two states), the percentage increase rate has more than doubled the rate for boys during the past 20 years—63 percent to 31 percent. Twenty years ago, girls constituted 36 percent of the total number of participants; this past year, that number has climbed to 41 percent. In Oklahoma, the number of girls participants actually exceeded the number of boys this past year—44,112 to 42,694.

While there’s still a ways to go to ensure that all schools are providing girls with equal access to athletic opportunities, the fact that the female participation numbers have increased twice as quickly as male participation numbers certainly demonstrates progress in that regard.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.