Updated: September 29, 2022
ASBA members can expect the sports facility construction industry to remain strong, at least in the high school sector. The number of participants in high school sports increased for the 26th consecutive year in 2014-15 – topping the 7.8 million mark for the first time – according to the annual High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
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 7,807,047 – an increase of 11,389 from the previous year.
And while the top 10 sports have been stable, there has been some movement within those numbers. Six of the top 10 girls’ sports registered increases in participation this past year, led by competitive spirit squads (5,170 additional participants) and cross country (3,495). While track and field remained the No. 1 sport for girls with 478,726 participants, volleyball (432,176) moved ahead of basketball (429,504) to secure the No. 2 spot. Ten years ago, basketball was No. 1 for girls, followed by track and field, and volleyball.
While boys’ participation dipped 8,682 from the previous year, girls’ participation increased for the 26th consecutive year with an additional 20,071 participants and set an all-time high of 3,287,735. The boys’ participation total of 4,519,312 is No. 2 all-time behind the 2013-14 total of 4,527,994.
Among the top 10 boys’ sports, soccer registered the largest gain with an additional 15,150 participants, while wrestling (11,306) and 11-player football (9,617) had the largest declines in participation. Besides soccer, other top 10 boys’ sports that had increases in the number of participants were baseball (3,938) and basketball (425).
“Overall, we are pleased with this year’s participation report indicating an increase for the 26th consecutive year,” said Bob Gardner, NFHS executive director. “And while football participation dropped this past year, the decrease is not that significant when you consider more than 1.1 million boys and girls are involved in the sport at the high school level.
Eleven-player football remains the runaway leader in boys participants with 1,083,617, followed by outdoor track and field (578,632), basketball (541,479), baseball (486,567) and soccer (432,569). The remainder of the top 10 is wrestling (258,208), cross country (250,981), tennis (157,240), golf (148,823) and swimming/diving (137,087).
After outdoor track and field, volleyball and basketball, the remainder of the top 10 girls sports are soccer (375,681), fast-pitch softball (364,103), cross country (221,616), tennis (182,876), swimming/diving (166,838), competitive spirit squads (125,763) and lacrosse (84,785).
Among some of the non-traditional high school sports on this year’s survey, archery and riflery registered significant increases in participation. An additional 2,877 participants (boys and girls) in archery brings the overall total to 7,744 with schools in eight states sponsoring the sport.
Also, while boys’ wrestling was down by more than 11,000 this past year, the number of girls participating in the sport increased by 1,592 for a total of 11,496.
The emergence of sports for non-traditional athletes is a trend that NFHS officials expect to climb. Outside of the expected varsity arena, many teens are finding their niche. Ultimate, for example, is a growing sport and with its recent acceptance by the IOC, more of that growth is expected. But it’s far from the only one.
“Bowling is another sport that continues to grow,” said Bruce Howard, communications and publications director of NFHS. “Fifteen years ago, five states held a state championship in bowling; today, 18 states have a state championship. We think bowling will continue to grow because it can attract a whole new group of students who aren’t currently involved in other sports.”
Another non-traditional high school sport showing growth is bass fishing; the recent national tournament put on by B.A.S.S. is proof of that.
The top 10 states by participants remained in the same order as last year, with Texas and California topping the list with 804,598 and 797,101, respectively. The remainder of the top 10 was New York (389,475), Illinois (340,972), Ohio (319,929), Pennsylvania (319,562), Michigan (295,660), New Jersey (279,377), Florida (267,954) and Minnesota (235,243).
The participation survey has been compiled since 1971 by the NFHS through numbers it receives from its member associations. The complete 2014-15 High School Athletics Participation Survey is attached in PDF format and will be posted soon on the NFHS website at www.nfhs.org.