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November 08, 2019

Pennsylvania tied for biggest increase in high school football participation amid falling interest nationwide

A New York Times analysis shows the sport losing ground across the country, but not in the Keystone State

High School Sports Football
high school football participation Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Pennsylvania is one of just three states in the country to see an increase in high school football participation between 2009 and 2018.

The New York Times published the first in a series of stories Friday about the future of football, beginning with perhaps the sport's most overlooked power center, high school football.

Participation in high school football dropped 11% nationwide from 2009 to 2018, according to the Times, amid rising concerns about the long- and short-term effects of head trauma on young athletes. In an online study commissioned by the Times for the series, a poll of 1,000 teenage boys found that 9% of football players said their parents voiced concerns about head injuries – that's three times as many as wrestlers and more than four times as many as hockey players.

Interestingly, Pennsylvania is one of just three states in the country to see an increase in high school football participation over that time span. The Times used data compiled from the National Federation of State High School Associations and the National Center for Education Statistics for its study.

Participation in the Keystone State jumped 2%, which tied Alabama for the biggest increase in the country. Mississippi also saw a participation increase, albeit just a 1% jump.

Why exactly Pennsylvania participation has risen is unclear in the Times' story. It certainly isn't regional: In eastern Pennsylvania, neighboring New Jersey saw a 10% decrease in high school football participation, and neighboring Delaware saw a 12% decrease. In western Pennsylvania, nearby Ohio, which the Times noted is often a hotbed for NFL talent, saw a staggering 27% drop in participation, and neighboring West Virginia saw a 10% decline in participation.

According to the PIAA, there are 562 high schools across Pennsylvania competing in football, including 40 in Philadelphia's District XII.

And while Pennsylvania is rising, the Philly area isn't immune to the national trend: Just this month PhillyVoice has written about Montgomery County's Springfield High School returning to prominence after shutting down its program for three years, and Perkiomen's eight-person football team.

Though high school participation is dipping across the United States, the professional product isn't hurting: The NFL saw league-wide revenue increase in four straight years from 2014 to 2017, according to the publicly-owned Green Bay Packers' annual financial report.


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