A few days ago, Ken Belson of the NY Times did a probing feature about the continuing decline of HS football numbers in this country.
Ken happened to focus on Maplewood Richmond Heights HS, a HS school from the St. Louis suburban area, a public HS that just five years ago was competing for a Missouri state championship in football. But this year, in June. the school administrators decided to let football go as a HS sport.
The reason? Not enough football players.
In 2010, that school’s team had 38 players….last season, the number dropped to only 20, not enough to field a team in their league, and so the school curtailed the program. Similar things have occurred in other states, such as Maine and NJ, where public schools have dropped football.
Admittedly, this HS in St. Louis was relatively small in terms of overall numbers, but HS football coaches all over regardless of the size of their school have noticed a substantial drop in players coming out.
The reason that is cited the most is the long-range concern about concussions. Ken made it clear that there’s still no answer to this problem, and there’s still no way to prevent a concussion. A caller did mention that a few NFL teams are studying rugby teams where physical contact is robust, but very few concussions are suffered. But as interesting as that development might be, the NFL and HS programs are a long ways off from adapting a rugby-like approach to football.
But here’s the interesting part. Concussions, according to Belson, are only a part of the reasons why football numbers are declining. In fact, Ken made it clear that there were other key factors that are often overlooked.
In fact, by the end of the show, Belson had come to these three conclusions as to why HS football is beginning to lose numbers.
Expenses — many parents tend to forget how just expensive a HS football program. Not only in terms of the equipment that’s needed, but the cost of multiples coaches, and the insurance premiums for players today. In contrast, other fall sports like soccer, cross-country, or even volleyball are a fraction of the cost of football. All taken into consideration, if the HS doesn’t have a substantial number of kids playing football, then the bean-counters start to think seriously about the expense.
Demographics — Belson also suggested that the population shift in the US has changed dramatically, and with that shift, kids’ interest in sports have changed. That is, with more Hispanic and Asian families around, their cultures tend to be more attracted to soccer and other sports rather than football.
Specialization — The final point that was made was that as more and more young athletes specialize in just one sport instead of playing two or three in HS, that too would account for a drop-off in football players. Many kids today just don’t want to commit to football as a year-round spot, especially spending a lot of time in the off-season weight room. They’d rather play a different sport.
Taken all together with parental concerns about concussions, you can see why HS football, although certainly not close to becoming extinct, is giving everybody involved a moment to pause and think.