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Some High Schools Are Dropping Varsity Football — Here’s Why

While other sports grow in popularity, this all-American activity is declining, for a few compelling reasons

Fall is almost here, and kids are starting to head back to school. But for some students, high school football won’t be among their activities.

Some high schools are dropping their varsity football programs altogether, after a continuing decline in nationwide participation.

The annual High School Athletics Participation Survey for 2017-2018 was released Friday, confirming the decline in students who choose to play football.

In 2015, slightly over 1 million boys — 1,112,251, to be exact — participated in high school football; but that number dropped to 1,086,748 in 2016, and then to 1,035,942 last year, as The Comeback reported of the survey.

It noted, “That’s a drop of [approximately] 50,000 kids in a year, and those numbers tend to be felt.”

That publication notes that while traditional 11 versus 11 football remains the number-one sport in terms of participation nationally (with its large rosters), it is actually only fifth in terms of schools offering the sport. It trails basketball, track, baseball, and cross-country — and tends to be an expensive sport that smaller schools can’t justify including.

Meanwhile, high sports participation as a whole continues to grow.

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSHA) announced the 29th consecutive year of increasing sports participation.

“The number of participants in high school sports in 2017-18 reached an all-time record high of 7,979,986, according to figures from the 51 NFHS member state high school associations, which includes the District of Columbia,” the federation said in a release.

“The number of girls participating in high school sports reached an all-time high of 3,415,306, and boys’ participation also set a new standard at 4,564,680,” it continued.

Among the reasons high school football participation is down may be the growing popularity of alternative sports, such as soccer and track-and-field.

Yet the primary concern many believe is causing the drop in football participation is the physically aggressive nature of the sport — and the heightened concerns of both parents and students about concussions.

Medical research in recent years has brought increasing awareness of the link between repeated concussions and the degenerative brain condition chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

A Journal of American Medicine article published in 2017 examined the brains of 202 football players; it found that 110 of 111 National Football League players had sustained CTE, while 88 percent of the brains — 177 of the total — also had the neurological disease.

High school football programs have been implementing stricter safeguards to protect players from concussions. The NFHSA cites more stringent enforcement of helmet-to-helmet penalties and limiting contact in practices as some of the reasons players have a lower risk of sustaining concussions.

“[We] are encouraged that the decline in high school football has slowed due, in part, to our efforts in reducing the risk of injury in the sport,” the federation said in a statement. “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.”

Related: Concussion Controversy: Who Should Have the Final Say?

The declining interest in football may also be due to a cultural shift in the male population.

“The male students we have are not interested in playing football. I don’t think it is any big problem with the football program,” Steve Kilian, an Indiana high school athletic director, told Today.

“I have not had any parents talk about concussions,” he added.

See a report on declining football participation in the video, below.

meet the author

Kyle Becker is a content writer and producer with LifeZette.

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