Good News for Sports Facility Contractors: More High School Students Participating in Sports

Wow. And the Olympics weren’t even underway when this survey was taken. But the good news is that participation in high school sports is up (and continues to be up). Even better, it’s closing in on a third decade of continuous increase. And that can only mean more demand for sports facilities – and ultimately, a resultant increase in construction.

Led by an encouraging report in football participation nationwide (this even after all the concussion fears), the number of participants in high school sports increased for the 27th consecutive year in 2015-16 according to the annual High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).  The full survey is available here.

Based on figures from the 51 NFHS member state high school associations, which includes the District of Columbia, the number of participants in high school sports reached an all-time high of 7,868,900 – an increase of 61,853 from the previous year.

Last year (just prior to the 2015-2016 school year), surveys saw a decline in football participation of nearly 10,000 students. (In 2014, there was also a drop, and almost equal in numbers.) Many pundits blamed this on an increased awareness of, and coverage of, concussions, as well as other worries, such as the crumb rubber issue and more, that might be influencing parents to discourage kids from participating in sports.

This year, however, although some states are still reporting a decrease in football, others are seeing a rise. When combining boys and girls participation in 6-, 8-, 9- and 11-player football, the number of participants increased 138 – from 1,114,253 to 1,114,391.

So has parents’ interest in college scholarships, or even kids’ professional sports careers, won out? The NFHS says simply that it has taken significant steps to minimize the risk of participation in football and all high school sports, and believes that the rebounding football numbers are proof of this. At the same time, other sports are growing exponentially. In the previous school year, track and field registered the largest increase in participants for both boys and girls, with an additional 12,501 boys and 7,243 girls. Track and field ranks second to football in boys participants with 591,133, and remains the most popular sport for girls with 485,969 participants.

Six other top 10 girls’ sports registered increases in 2015-16, including volleyball, soccer, softball, cross country, tennis and lacrosse. The top 10 girls’ sports remained the same as the previous year: track and field, volleyball, basketball, soccer, fast-pitch softball, cross country, tennis, swimming and diving, competitive spirit squads, and lacrosse.

In the top 10 of boys’ sports, following track and field, soccer registered the largest gain with an additional 7,753 participants, followed by cross country (up 6,710), basketball (up 4,949) and baseball (up 2,248). Although the top five boys sports remained the same as last year – 11-player football, track and field, basketball, baseball and soccer – cross country moved to sixth place ahead of wrestling, which dropped to seventh after a decline of 7,555 participants. Tennis, golf and swimming and diving complete the top 10 listing of boys sports.

Count on the 2016 Olympics in Rio to inspire even more kids to get back to competitive sports this year. (Those numbers will be reflected in next fall’s survey.)

One thing the NFHS has been keeping an eye on has been lacrosse. And this sport continued its rise with 197,572 total participants to rank 10th in girls participation and 11th for boys.

Non-traditional sports are also on the NFHS radar. Among some of those on this year’s survey, archery (8,668), badminton (17,645) and flag football (12,093) continued to register increases in participation. Also, while boys wrestling had a drop in participation, an additional 2,000 girls participated in the sport last year for an all-time high of 13,496.

Want some more good news? Adaptive sports participation is up. Numbers increased in 2015-16 from 8,483 participants to 9,491 with schools in 12 states now offering these programs for students with disabilities.

So in all of the sports surveyed, which has the most active student athletes? The NFHS does compile a top 10; however, those top 10 states remained the same: Texas and California are at the top with 809,075 and 802,117 participants each, respectively, followed by New York (372,772), Illinois (344,143), Ohio (319,929), Pennsylvania (319,853), Michigan (295,436), Florida (285,885), New Jersey (279,371) and Minnesota (237,686). Thirty-three of the 51 NFHS member state associations reported increases in participation in 2015-16.

The participation survey has been compiled since 1971 by the NFHS through numbers it receives from its member associations.

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