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NFHS Releases High School Athletics Participation Summary

Is the recession over? Depends on who's talking and who's still feeling the pinch. But here's some good news for the athletic facility construction industry: sports participation is up at the high school level. And more players using sports facilities means a need for more facilities and better-equipped facilities. Plus it also bodes well for students continuing their athletic interests through college and beyond.

According to the National Federation for State High School Associations (NFHS) 2009-2010 High School Athletics Participation Summary, the number of students participating in sports continues to grow. In the academic year 2009-2010, a total of 7,628,377 students (4,455,740 boys and 3,172,637 girls) participated in high school sports. The 2008-2009 figures showed 7,536,753 total students (4,422,662 boys and 3,114,091 girls).

The top 10 most popular sports for boys (in terms of numbers of athletes participating) are football, outdoor track and field, basketball, baseball, soccer, wrestling, cross-country, tennis, golf and swimming/diving. For girls, the top 10 are outdoor track and field, basketball, volleyball, softball (fast-pitch), soccer, cross-country, tennis, swimming/diving, competitive spirit squads and golf.

Interesting to note: Some of the biggest gains were shown in tennis (345,150 students in school year 2009-2010, as compared to 334,758 in school year 2008-2009), lacrosse (up to 159,438 in 2009-2010, from its 2008-2009 total of 153,525), soccer (747,955 in 2009-2010, as compared to 728,358 in 2008-2009) and fast-pitch softball (380,013 students in 2009-2010, and 370,467 in 2008-2009). Smaller gains were reported in volleyball (454,452 in 2009-2010, as compared to 453,589 in 2008-2009) and golf (228,628 in 2009-2010, as compared to 226,285 in 2008-2009).

Some sports, including basketball, baseball, and 11-player football remained popular, but actually fell slightly in terms of numbers of athletes participating. The overall number of girls participating in sports also dipped slightly this year, but remained strong, particularly in tennis (182,395 girls as compared to 162,755 boys), and swimming/diving (158,419 girls vs. 138,376 boys).

NFHS also recognizes and reports on data collected on adapted sports (basketball, bowling, floor hockey, softball, soccer and track); these numbers reported gains in every discipline except floor hockey, where participation fell slightly. (Those who want to know why wheelchair tennis isn't included in those figures should note that according to the rules of wheelchair tennis, a player in a wheelchair can compete with an able-bodied player; the player in a wheelchair is allowed to have the ball bounce twice but otherwise the game is largely unchanged).

The survey breaks data down by states (and by sports within states), and also shows year by year changes in total participation numbers. The pdf of the NFHS report can be downloaded free of charge from (choose "participation data" from the menu on the left-hand side of the home page).

2010 American Sports Builders Association 

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National Federation for State High School Associations