High school sports participation rose for the 23rd straight year, hitting a new all-time high of 7,692,520 participants, according to the latest annual High School Athletics Participation Survey from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
The numbers aren't all rosy for boys' sports, however. Football, boys' basketball, and boys' track and field all suffered drops of at least 10,000 participants from the 2010-11 school year.
The survey, released Thursday, compiles data from the 51 state high school athletic/activity associations (including the District of Columbia). It reveals an increase of 24,565 high school sports participants from 2010-11, largely spurred by growth in girls' sports.
In fact, boys' participation figures in the 2011-12 school year actually fell for the first time in two decades, according to the NFHS data. The number of high school boys participating in sports this past school year dropped by 9,419, from 4,494,406 to 4,484,987.
On the boys' side, basketball and football suffered the largest drops, with 13,603 and 12,239 fewer athletes, respectively. Seven of the 10 most popular sports for boys—basketball, football, golf, swimming, tennis, track, and wrestling—all attracted fewer participants in the 2011-12 school year than in the 2010-11 school year, according to the data.
For girls, participation actually increased by 33,984, setting a new all-time record of 3,207,533. Outdoor track and field, basketball, and volleyball ranked as the three most popular sports for females, mirroring the 2010-11 survey, although soccer replaced fast-pitch softball as the fourth most popular girls' sport. An additional 9,419 girls played high school soccer this past season compared with 2010-11, according to the survey.
"In this time of ever-increasing financial challenges in our nation's high schools, we are greatly encouraged to know that participation in high school sports continues to rise," said Bob Gardner, NFHS executive director, in a statement. "With more than 55 percent of students enrolled in high schools participating in athletics, the value of these programs in an education-based setting continues to be significant."
I've reached out to the NFHS to see if someone at the organization has a theory behind the falling participation figures for boys and will update this post once I hear anything.
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