High school sports participation rises back to pre-pandemic levels
The NFHS completed its High School Athletics Participation Survey for a second time after the pandemic interrupted its collection of data.A total of 7,857,969 participants competed in high school sports in 2022-23, an increase of nearly 240,000 and up more than three percent from 2021-22 totals. The total includes 4,529,789 boys and 3,328,180 girls, according to figures obtained from the 51 NFHS member state associations, which includes the District of Columbia.
This year’s survey also captured e-sports participation data for the first time with 20,001 boys and 3,921 girls recorded. Eighteen states reported Esports participation, with Illinois and California leading the way, each with more than 3,000 participants.
For clarification, multi-sport participants are included in the total for each sport season they compete in throughout the year. For example, a three-sport participant in 2022-23 will count three times toward the participation total.
This year’s total marks the first upward movement in participation data since the all-time record of 7,980,886 in 2017-18, which was followed by the first decline in 30 years in 2018-19 and the two-year halt in data collection related to the pandemic.
“We were optimistic that the trends we saw in 2021-22 would continue, and our dreams were realized this past year as more and more students continued to pursue opportunities in education-based sports in our nation’s schools,” said Dr. Karissa Niehoff, NFHS chief executive officer. “Perhaps the most encouraging news with this year’s survey is that almost every sport for boys and girls registered an increase from the previous year. Certainly, that is the goal of these programs – to meet the needs of as many students as possible. We salute coaches, administrators, and everyone involved in school-based sports the past few years for their efforts in keeping these programs alive.”
The top 10 sports remained the same for both boys and girls, with boys tennis leapfrogging boys golf as the eighth-most popular sport, and girls basketball and girls competitive spirit each moving up a spot on the girls side. On the boys side, eight of the top 10 sports registered increases in participation, while nine of the top 10 sports on the girls side added participants.
One of the biggest increases in participation for boys and girls was in the sport of wrestling. Boys wrestling jumped 10 percent, adding nearly 25,000 participants, to more than 256,000 – the largest total since 258,208 in 2014-15.
Amazingly, the increase in girls wrestling was even larger with 17,473 additional participants – a massive 55-percent increase from 2021-22 – to reach a record total of 49,127. Just 10 years ago, there were fewer than 10,000 girls in high school wrestling. In addition, 36 states now offer separate state wrestling championships for girls.
Eleven-player football remained the most popular boys sport with the total climbing back over one million participants. The total of 1,028,761 participants marks an increase of 54,969 and 5.6 percent from the previous year. Not only did 11-player football top the one million mark, this year’s increase was the first in the sport since 2013 and only the second increase since the all-time high of 1,112,303 in 2008-09. There also was a slight gain (34,935 to 35,301) in the number of boys in 6-, 8- and 9-player football.
The number of girls playing football – particularly flag football – continued to climb as well. A total of 20,875 girls participated in flag football in 2022-23 – an increase of 32 percent. Seven states now sponsor a state championship in girls flag and more are in the planning stages. The number of girls in 11-player football increased 18 percent with 3,654 participants.