Based on figures from the 51 NFHS-member state high school athletic/activity associations, which includes the District of Columbia, sports participation for the 2011-12 school year reached an all-time high of 7,692,520 participants – an increase of 24,565 from the previous year.
“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. “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.”
An additional 33,984 girls participated in high school sports last year, making the all-time record total 3,207,533. This also marks the 23rd consecutive year for an increase in the number of female participants. Outdoor track and field (468,747), basketball (435,885) and volleyball (418,903) continued to be the top three participatory sports for girls, with volleyball up 9,571 participants from 2010-11.
Soccer (370,975) surpassed fast-pitch softball (367,023) as the fourth most-popular girls sport, up 9,419 from last year, while cross country(212,262), tennis (180,870), swimming and diving (160,456), competitive spirit squads (108,307) and lacrosse (74,993) completed the top 10. Along with soccer and volleyball, cross country, competitive spirit squads and lacrosse all had increased participation from 2010-11.
While girls participation continued to climb, boys participation figures dipped for the first time since the 1992-93 school year, down 9,419 from last year’s number of 4,494,406 to 4,484,987. Seven of the top 10 boys sports registered drops in participation, with 11-player football (1,095,993), outdoor track and field (575,628), basketball (535,289), wrestling (272,149), tennis (159,800), golf (152,725) and swimming and diving (133,823) all down from last year. Baseball (474,219), soccer (411,757) and cross country (248,494) all had increases from the previous year, with soccer registering the largest increase of 13,406.
Lacrosse, which ranks No. 11 in participation among boys sports, topped the 100,000 mark (100,641) with about 5,000 additional participants. Wrestling continued its rise in popularity among girls, with almost 1,000 additional participants up to 8,235.
Participants by state stayed true to last year’s order, as Texas and California once again topped the list with 808,806 and 781,912, respectively, followed by New York (389,475), Illinois (346,896), Ohio (333,349), Pennsylvania (317,869), Michigan (308,080), New Jersey (259,219), Florida (257,282) and Minnesota (238,363). Twenty states registered increases in participation in 2011-12.
The participation survey has been compiled since 1971 by the NFHS through numbers it receives from its member associations. The complete 2011-12 High School Athletics Participation Survey can be viewed below.