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High School Sports Participation Eclipses 7.8 Million for First Time

Participation in high school sports reached a new all-time high in the 2014-15 school year, eclipsing the 7.8-million threshold for the first time , according to the latest High School Athletics Participation Survey from the National Federation of State High School Associations.

According to the survey, which was released Aug. 13, 7,807,047 students participated in high school sports during the 2014-15 school year, an increase of 11,389 from the previous year. This marks the 26th straight year in which overall high school sports participation rose, per the NFHS' data.

A total of 4.5 million high school boys participated in sports this past school year, a decrease of about 8,700 from the previous year. The 2014-15 mark is the second-highest total ever, trailing just the one set in 2013-14 (4.5 million). Girls' participation, meanwhile, rose by roughly 20,000 in 2014-15, setting a new all-time high of 3.3 million.

Among the 10 most popular boys' sports, wrestling (11,300) and 11-player football (9,600) experienced the greatest declines in participation, while soccer (15,150) had the greatest increase. Baseball (3,900) and basketball (425) also experienced increases among top-10 boys' sports.

Girls' sports, meanwhile, registered a wider swath of growth. Six of the top 10 female sports all experienced increases in participation, led by competitive spirit squads (5,100) and cross country (3,500). Volleyball, meanwhile, surpassed basketball to become the second-most popular girls' sport, trailing only track and field (479,000).

"Overall, we are pleased with this year's participation report indicating an increase for the 26th consecutive year," said Bob Gardner, NFHS executive director, in a statement. "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 participation had declined each of the previous four years before rising by nearly 7,000 in the 2013-14 school year. It appears as though that increase in football participation may have been a one-year anomaly rather than a sign of things to come. However, football remains by far the most popular sport for high school boys, with 1.1 million participating this past school year. (The next-closest sport, track and field, only had about 579,000 male participants.)

Texas (804,600) and California (797,100) dwarfed all other states in terms of high school sports participation, though four others—New York, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—had at least 300,000 high school student-athletes during the 2014-15 school year. A total of 30 states had 100,000 high schoolers participate in sports last year, while only three—Alaska, Wyoming, and Vermont—along with the District of Columbia had fewer than 25,000. 

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