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High school sports participation increases for 24th straight year

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Participation in high school sports increased for the 24th consecutive year in 2012-13 and passed the 7.7 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, sports participation for the 2012-13 school year reached an all-time high of 7,713,577 participants – an increase of 21,057 from the previous year. 

An additional 15,190 girls participated in high school sports, moving the girls all-time record to 3,222,723. After its first decrease in 20 years last year, boys participation started on the upswing again with an additional 5,867 participants.

“While we recognize that many schools are experiencing challenges with funding high school sports programs, we are encouraged that schools are responding to the challenges and that more and more students are involved in high school sports,” said Bob Gardner, NFHS executive director. “Playing sports within the school setting continues to be the desire of more than 55 percent of students enrolled in our nation’s high schools.”

Eight of the top 10 girls sports registered increases in participation in 2012-13, led by competitive spirit squads (8,201), outdoor track and field (4,172), and swimming and diving (3,536). Lacrosse, cross country, volleyball, soccer and tennis also had additional female participants, while basketball and fast-pitch softball had minor declines. 

Five of the top 10 boys sports showed increases in participation, led by outdoor track and field (5,044), swimming and diving (4,354), and basketball (3,387). Cross country and baseball also registered gains among top 10 sports. 

Eleven-player football remains the top sport for boys with 1,086,627 participants in 2012-13, although the number of players has decreased slightly each of the past four years, including a drop of 9,366 from 2011-12 to 2012-13. 

In terms of combined participation, track and field, and swimming and diving registered the best overall gains. Track and field had an increase of more than 9,100 participants when combining girls and boys, while swimming and diving was up almost 8,000. 

Girls sports outside the top 10 that recorded increases in participants and could be emerging sports for females are bowling (25,450 participants in 2012-13), ice hockey (9,447), wrestling (8,727) and flag football (7,019).

A sizeable increase in “adapted sports” participation also contributed to the rise in 2012-13 figures. With seven states offering these programs for students with disabilities in 14 sports, the number of participants rose almost 3,000 to 8,747 (girls and boys combined). 

The complete 2012-13 High School Athletics Participation Survey is available on the NFHS Web site at www.nfhs.org.