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Some Perspectives on Decline in NC High School Sports Participation

For several years, the release of new data on high school sports participation has been eagerly awaited. On Wednesday, the National Federation of State High School Associations finally delivered.

In 2018-2019, participation declined nationwide for the first time in 30 years last year when the NFHS released participation data due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And some of the longest-tenured sports were some of the most affected.

Then came the pandemic. Schools are closed, sports are cancelled, and the uncertainty in the world is immense. The kids were finding other things to do, playing club sports, working. There was deep concern among schools, athletic directors and coaches about the future of high school sports.

Women's Basketball: Bishop McGuinness vs Barty (March 12, 2022)

North Carolina resumed high school sports on a limited schedule in November 2020. In spring 2021, HighSchoolOT will conduct a survey of athletic directors and find that 79.4% of NCHSAA member schools have seen a decline in their participation in sports during the 2020-2021 school year, and 66% have at least one 35.9% said they had stopped playing junior varsity sports. At least one national team sport because there are no participants.

HighSchoolOT conducted another survey this spring. In April 2022, his 26.6% of athletic directors reported that his participation had declined during the 2022 academic year from his 2021. This is still a significant number, but well below last year’s 79.4%.

Now we have real numbers to show how big an impact the pandemic has had. Unsurprisingly, attendance has declined.

top line number

During the 2018-2019 school year, participation in North Carolina high school sports was approaching 200,000 student-athletes. That number has fallen by 9.1% to just over 180,000 by the 2021-2022 school year.

Take some time to digest it. In his three years, including the pandemic, he dropped 1 in 10 of North Carolina’s high school athletes from the sport. And since that her 9.1% figure is for the 2021-2022 school year (most schools did not see a decline in his participation compared to the 2020-2021 school year), the 2020-2020 It’s safe to say that the decline for the 2021 school year was quite large. Sharper.

One question that people who invested in high school sports need to ask: Why was North Carolina’s 9.1% decline far outpacing the national 4% decline?

I don’t have an answer to this question, but one theory I’ve thought of: North Carolina’s decision to change the sports calendar for 2020-2021 and create non-traditional overlapping seasons And what impact have pandemic-related protocols had on participation? What about the lack of middle school sports in many areas? I’m not claiming that any of them were wrong, but even the right decisions can have undesirable consequences.

Differences in participation between boys and girls

Since the NFHS data came out this week, several people have asked me about the difference between the drop in boys’ participation and girls’ participation.

North Carolina saw a 6.4% drop in boys’ participation and a 12.5% ​​drop in girls’ participation. It’s surprising, but not shocking.

A HighSchoolOT survey conducted this spring found that sports directors, while generally optimistic, had deep concerns about women’s sports and junior varsity sports. At the varsity level, 42.6% of sporting directors reported a decline in softball participation, 39.6% reported a decline in women’s basketball, 36.1% said women were running less cross-country, and 33.6% They said fewer girls were swimming, with 28.8% reporting a decline in girls. Participating in soccer. Additionally, more than 20% of her in schools report declines in varsity women’s golf, women’s track and field, and women’s lacrosse.

This is not a COVID-19 phenomenon. It was already happening before the pandemic, and now it is accelerating. There are many theories as to why girls’ participation has plummeted, but they remain unresolved. This is a national problem, but… the decline in North Carolina was much steeper than the decline nationwide.

North Carolina experienced a 12.5% ​​decline in girls’ participation from 2018-2019 to 2021-2022, compared to a national decline of just 4.7%. Again, that’s something that needs further investigation. Why is it happening in North Carolina? And what can be done to reverse that trend?

The decline in boys’ participation rates in North Carolina was also steeper than the national decline. He was 6.4% in North Carolina compared to her 3.5% nationwide.

These numbers bother me…

In North Carolina, it may not be time to hit the panic button yet.

The start of the 2021-2022 school year was unusual. Some regions still had mask mandates, pandemic-related restrictions and protocols still in place, and some teams were still in quarantine. Even in December 2021, there were concerns that the Wallace Rose Hill football team could be put into quarantine after the team developed a case of COVID-19 during the week of the state championship game. So things weren’t “normal”.

We have come a long way since then. So far, this fall sports season has been basically the same as any pre-pandemic season, and that might help you get involved.

We do not yet have firm data on participation for the 2022-2023 school year. It’s too early to really show much in the HighSchoolOT survey, and the NFHS won’t release his 2022-2023 data until this time next year. However, there are many anecdotal examples of a resurgence in participation this year. We are hearing increased participation from many Fall Sports Coaches and Athletic Directors in various parts of the state. Some football coaches report record numbers.

That alone is encouraging. But it’s not all-encompassing. Some areas are still struggling. There are sports that I struggle with. And everyone involved in high school sports needs to continue to focus on this very important issue.

There are still many unknown points. For example, how will the lack of middle school sports during the pandemic in some areas affect the future of high school sports?

Another red flag: A HighSchoolOT survey in April 2022 showed widespread concern about the level of participation in sports by junior varsity teams last year. Will the trend reverse this year? And in a big way? Most of the attention is on varsity sports, but today’s junior varsity players will be tomorrow’s varsity players. The problem of national team participation is likely to persist and possibly worsen if there are not enough junior national team players.

We’re awaiting North Carolina sports-specific participation data, but what we know now confirms concerns many had during the pandemic. Participation has been greatly impacted. Now we need to get the data and focus on how to solve that problem. Hopefully, when the 2022-2023 data are released, we will see a positive trend in the opposite direction.