High School Sports

High school football participation decreasing in Kentucky. See how other sports are doing.

Scott County took field against Highlands before their game Aug. 31, 2018. Football participation statewide has declined in Kentucky in recent years, according to a statistical analysis.
Scott County took field against Highlands before their game Aug. 31, 2018. Football participation statewide has declined in Kentucky in recent years, according to a statistical analysis.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association announced Thursday that participation reached another record in 2018-29 with 106,931 students rostered in its 13 sports and six sport-activities.

While football remains the most popular sport overall, it continues to slide in comparison to recent years.

“For 2018-19, our schools reported 13,033 boys playing football (freshmen, JV, varsity) and an additional 42 girls, down from 13,271 boys with 26 girls in 2017-18,” KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett said in a press release. “This continues a three-year trend from the all-time high of 14,305 in 2015-16 and certainly follows a national trend in this one sport. While our varsity numbers were again only down less than one student per team (11,638 total compared to 11,830 the year prior), it has to be concerning to our schools that non-varsity participation continues to decrease, as this is a predictor of future varsity participation. The consolidation of freshmen and junior varsity programs to one non-varsity program has continued in many areas and likely is a factor in the overall reduction.”

With 32 percent of all students competing in some fashion, the KHSAA has seen participation rise by 7,288 since 2012-13, a 6.8% increase. This year’s record surpassed last year’s by 690 participants.

The KHSAA saw declines in basketball, cross country, softball and golf, but those losses have been offset by other sports and new activities such as swimming and diving, bowling, archery, bass fishing, dance and competitive cheer.

“We have had a 25% decline in boys’ golf participation since 2002, from a high water mark of 2,722 boys in 2002-2003 to last year’s low point of 2,035. Girls’ golf has also declined during that same time, from that high mark in 2002-2003 of 1,379 to its lowest level on record of 1,138 in 2018-2019,” Tackett said. “We have to do things at the local and early levels to get more kids at more schools opportunities to address sports in decline like that.”

The KHSAA made a controversial decision this month in changing who could play in the state golf boys’ and girls’ tournaments. Team runners-up in golf’s regionals, who advanced to state under its previous format, have been eliminated from team play at state in a move ostensibly made to speed up play. Runner-up team members still have opportunities to advance to state as individuals.

Other highlights of Thursday’s report included:

  • Track and field was the most popular sport in the state with an all-time high of 12,464 participants. Track and field saw the greatest year-over-year growth in terms of increased participants, with 438 additional student-athletes in 2018-19 versus 2017-18 (an increase of 3.6 percent). Soccer finished close behind with 12,450 participants. Basketball had 12,211 for third. Archery ranked second with 218 new participants.

  • Competitive cheer (181), bass fishing (154), dance (145) and swimming and diving (119) each added more than 100 new competitors.

  • Swimming increased from 2,889 boys and girls in 2002-2003 to 3,764 last year.

  • Volleyball was the most popular girls’ sport with 6,264 participants, followed by soccer (5,847), softball (5,626), track and field (5,591), basketball (5,273) and competitive cheer (5,081).

  • Overall female participation reached a high of 49,193 rostered participants in 2018-19, an increase of 7.8 percent from 2012-13, with 11,114 multi-sport student-athletes (29.2 percent of all female participants).

  • Among boys’ sports, baseball was second in the state behind football with 7,143 participants. Basketball ranked third overall at 6,938, followed by track and field (6,873), soccer (6,603), cross country (3,157) and archery (2,597).

  • Overall male participation also established a record high with 57,738 rostered participants in 2018-19, which marked an increase of 5.9 percent from the 2012-13 season, with 14,744 multi-sport student-athletes (34.3 percent of all male participants).

  • Competitive cheer was the most popular sport-activity with 5,247 total rostered participants last year, followed by archery which topped 5,000 participants for the first time (5,101). Bowling (1,908) and bass fishing (1,606) were third and fourth among sport-activities.

  • Basketball ranked as the most-sponsored sport across Kentucky with 275 schools offering a team. Volleyball had the second-highest number of teams with 264, followed by baseball (259), track and field (257) and softball (256).

  • The complete NFHS participation report, along with historical data, is available online at https://khsaa.org/general/resources/membership-reports-and-data/.

Jared Peck, the Herald-Leader’s Digital Sports Writer, covers high school athletics and has been with the company as a writer and editor for more than 19 years.
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