Overall participation in high school sports last year increased for the 29th consecutive school year, but a downward trend continued for high school football — especially in Kentucky.
High school football participation among boys in Kentucky dropped for the second straight school year, according to an annual participation report released by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association on Monday. A total of 221 schools reported 13,271 boys played football in the 2017-18 school year, a drop of 463 players from the 2016-17 school total (13,732). More than 1,000 fewer boys played football last year than in 2015, when Kentucky had a record 14,305 boys take to the gridiron; that’s a decline of about 7.2 percent over the previous two years.
Participation in high school football dropped for the fourth straight season nationally, according to a report from the National Federation of High Schools. Football participation at the national level has dropped 6.9 percent since the 2008-09 school year, when a record 1,112,303 boys played high school football across the U.S.
National participation last year was at its lowest point since 2003, when 1,032,682 boys played football, though it remains the most widely participated in sport among boys and second overall for boys and girls behind track and field (1,088,689 in 2017-18). The rate of decline was a bit lower from 2016 to 2017 than from 2015 to 2016 — 2 percent compared to 2.2 percent — which NFHS Executive Director Karissa Niehoff attributed, in part, to efforts aimed at reducing risk of injury.
“While there may be other reasons that students elect not to play football, we have attempted to assure student-athletes and their parents that thanks to the concussion protocols and rules in place in every state in the country, the sport of football is as safe as it ever has been,” Niehoff said in the news release.
An all-time record of 7,979,986 students played sanctioned high school sports in the 2017-18 school year. Soccer saw the biggest gains among boys with an additional 6,128 coming out for the sport (up from 450,234 in 2016-17) while competitive spirit was the biggest gainer among girls with 18,426 additional participants (up from 144,243 in 2016-17).
Other Kentucky figures
Kentucky overall saw participation in high school sports increase 1.8 percent, to 105,151 from 103,283, between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years.
Participation in boys’ basketball dropped slightly to 7,061 last year from 7,097 in 2016-17. Baseball participation dropped, to 7,230 from 7,302, as did girls’ basketball participation (5,313 from 5,452).
Soccer participation increased among boys (6,545 from 6,415) but dipped slightly among girls (5,906 from 5,938).
Softball participation dropped 4.7 percent, from 5,938 to 5,659, from 2016-17 to 2017-18. Volleyball also saw a slight decline, dropping from 6,272 to 6,221.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story reported that Kentucky had 12,371 boys play football in the 2017-18 school year. That figure originated from an inaccurate report by the NFHS.