INDIANAPOLIS — For the first time in three decades, overall participation in high school sports declined nationwide, according to a survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).

In 2017-2018, the amount of participating athletes was 7,980,886, the highest amount ever recorded.

For 2018-2019, participation decreased slightly to 7,937,491, a decrease of less than one percent.

“We know from recent surveys that the number of kids involved in youth sports has been declining, and a decline in the number of public school students has been predicted for a number of years, so we knew our ‘streak’ might end someday,” Dr. Karissa Niehoff, NFHS executive director, said.

Still, the 2018-2019 participation number is the third-highest in history. 

The last decline in sports participation numbers occurred during the 1988-89 school year.

“The data from this year’s survey serves as a reminder that we have to work even harder in the coming years to involve more students in these vital programs – not only athletics but performing arts programs as well,” Niehoff said.

According to the NFHS, football and basketball saw the biggest drop in participation.

Nationwide, 1,006,013 players participated in 11-player football in the 2018-2019 season, down by 30,829 athletes from the previous season. It is the fifth years in a row football participation has decreased. 

“While we recognize that the decline in football participation is due, in part, to concerns about the risk of injury, we continue to work with our member state associations, the nation’s high schools and other groups to make the sport as safe as possible," Niehoff said.

Despite this, 6-player, 8-player and 9-player football gained participants nationwide. Also, participation in football by female athletes increased to 2,404.

“The survey certainly confirms that schools are not dropping the sport of football, which is great news,” Niehoff said. “Certainly, we are concerned about the reduction in the number of boys involved in the 11-player game, but are thrilled that states are finding other options by starting 6-player or 8-player football in situations where the numbers have declined.

Basketball, particularly girls basketball decreased in the 2018-2019 season. A total of 399,067 girls participated in basketball last season, the lowest since the early 90's. Texas experienced the biggest drop in girls basketball by a total of 25,000 athletes.

There were sports that saw increases in participation including:

  • Boys soccer
  • Boys wrestling
  • Boys track and field
  • Boys tennis
  • Boys volleyball
  • Girls volleyball
  • Girls soccer
  • Girls lacrosse
  • Girls wrestling

Adapted and unified sports also saw a large jump.

“While we will do everything in our power to regain participation levels in football and other traditional sports, we are thrilled with reports from sports such as volleyball, lacrosse, soccer, competitive spirit and some of the emerging sports,” Niehoff said. “Our ultimate goal is to involve as many students as possible in high school sports and other activity programs.”

Texas is still the state with the highest participation at 825,924 athletes.