High School Football

How have injury and concussion concerns in football affected high school turnout?

Squalicum’s Ben Peterson (5) leads the squad onto the field prior to its Class 3A state playoff game against Bonney Lake Nov. 11 at Civic Stadium in Bellingham.
Squalicum’s Ben Peterson (5) leads the squad onto the field prior to its Class 3A state playoff game against Bonney Lake Nov. 11 at Civic Stadium in Bellingham. For The Bellingham Herald

The state of Washington saw a slight increase in participation in high school football last fall, despite national headlines and concerns over the dangers of suffering concussions and other injuries associated with the sport, according to statistics released Monday by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

According to data collected by the National Federation (NFHS), 21,776 Washington student-athletes played football in the fall of 2016, up 0.13 percent from the 21,747 that participated in 2015.

This number was similar to what The Bellingham Herald found in Whatcom County, where the 11 high school programs listed 536 players on their Week 1 varsity rosters last year, up 0.56 percent over the 533 players listed in 2015. Those numbers did not include junior varsity or freshmen players not listed on varsity rosters.

Washington’s rise is in slight contrast to the national trend, which saw a dip of 25,503 football players in 2016 to 1,086,748 – down 2.29 percent from 1,112,251 in 2015. That translates to a national decrease of approximately 1.8 players per program among the 14,099 schools offering the sport, according to the release.

Football remained the No. 1 participation sport by a large margin nationally; boys track and field was a distant second with 600,136 participants. Other top boys sports nationally included basketball (550,305 participants), baseball (491,790) and soccer (450,234). The top girls participation sports nationally were track and field (494,477), volleyball (444,779), basketball (430,368), soccer (388,339) and softball (367,405).

“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 release. “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.”

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Lynden High School’s Brody Weinheimer scores a touchdown against Ferndale Sept. 9. Philip A. Dwyer pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Washington saw an increase in the number of schools offering football last year, as 337 WIAA schools fielded either 11-man or eight-man programs, up from 275 in 2015.

The overall number of participants in high school sports nationwide increased for the 28th consecutive school year in 2016-17, according to the release, reaching an all-time high of 7,963,535. The increase of 94,636 is the largest one-year jump in participation since 2008-09.

The reason for the sizable increase, the release said, was the largest one-year increase in girls participation in 16 years, as the top 10 participatory girls sports each saw an increase to boost the number of girls participating in high school sports to an all-time high of 3,400,297.

“As we celebrate the 45th anniversary of Title IX this year, this report on girls participation numbers underscores the significance of that important decision in 1972,” Gardner said. “It is great to see an ever-increasing number of girls taking advantage of that opportunity to compete in high school sports.”

Washington had the 16th largest participation in the nation in 2016-17 with 172,229 high school student-athletes, up two spots nationally and 11.73 percent from the 152,014 participants it had in 2015-16. Boys saw an increase of 9.58 percent (9,323) to 97,359, while girls participation was up 14.55 percent (10,892) to 74,870 last year.

The WIAA’s 2017-18 high school sports year gets underway Aug. 16 with the first day of high school football practice; volleyball, girls soccer, cross country, boys tennis and girls swimming can begin practices Aug. 21.