Minnesota is Leader in Girls High School Participation
For every 100 Minnesota high school girls, there are 82 registrations for sports. Minnesota girls first claimed the No. 1 spot a decade ago and haven’t relinquished it since, according to participation data collected annually by a national survey and analyzed this month by the Star Tribune.
Girls’ prep sports participation in Minnesota — about 118,000 signups by the 143,000 high school-aged girls — has grown enough over the years that it now often runs even or close to the boys’ participation rates in the state.
Minnesota recorded a participation rate of 82.2% in girls’ high school sports in 2019, the most recent year of the National Federation of High School Associations’ (NFHS) annual participation survey due to the pandemic. This participation rate counts signups; if a student-athlete competed in three different sports, they are counted three times.
“I think Minnesota has always been known as a state that is sort of at the forefront of pushing for human and civil rights in a number of areas,” said Nicole LaVoi, the director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota. “And I think our participation numbers for girls in sport is a good indicator of that.”
LaVoi called Title IX “critical” to that success and cited Minnesota’s emphasis on providing equal opportunities, the cornerstone of the law, as a difference-maker.
“We know girls are interested and the Minnesota State High School League has provided a lot of opportunities for girls to play sports,” LaVoi said. “And we know when girls are afforded the opportunity to play sports and be in the right environment, it leads to a lot of positive developmental health and psychosocial outcomes.”
Erich Martens, the executive director of the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL), agreed. He pointed to the state championships directed by the MSHSL as indicative of equal opportunities for all student-athletes in its 24 state-sanctioned sports. Examples include both the boys’ and girls’ soccer state championships at U.S. Bank Stadium and both hockey tournaments at the Xcel Energy Center.
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“Our focus is on providing great experiences and opportunities for girls in our activities, both our sports and our fine arts,” Martens said. “And we’re seeing that those numbers have continued to rise over the course of time.”
There are several reasons behind Minnesota’s rise to the top. Some are obvious, such as additions in Minnesota midway through the Title IX era of sports such as girls’ hockey and girls’ lacrosse, and the leaps in popularity in recent decades of running sports (cross-country, track and field) and soccer.
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