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High school football participation declines locally, nationally

IC Catholic's Jordan Rowell (35) steps over a Carlinville defender. Worsom Robinson/ For the Sun-Times.

The National Federation of State High School Associations released its annual participation numbers on Monday and the news isn’t good for high school football.

Almost 26,000 fewer students played football in 2016-17 than in 2015-16. Football is still the top sport in overall participation, with more than 1 million students playing.

In Illinois, football is in the midst of a nine-year decline in participation. In 2008, 51,334 students played football. There were 42,682 students playing football in Illinois in 2016-17.

“While we are concerned when any sport experiences a decline in participation, the numbers do not substantiate that schools are dropping the sport of football,” NFHS Executive Director Bob Gardner said in a statement. “The NFHS and its member state high school associations have worked hard to reduce the risk of injury in high school football, and we are pleased at the continued strength of the sport across the country.”

Overall, high school sports are stronger than ever. Almost eight million students participated in sports in 2016-17, an all-time high. The fastest growing boys sport is soccer, which added nearly 10,000 players last year.

Texas (834,558) and California (800,634) had the most high school athletes, followed by New York (367,849), Illinois (341,387), Ohio (340,146), Pennsylvania (319,153), Florida (310,567), Michigan (295,647), New Jersey (283,655) and Minnesota (239,289).

The full NFHS participation survey is here.