1,057,407 Players: Football Still No. 1 Sport for High School Boys

By Terence P. Jeffrey | August 24, 2017 | 12:51 PM EDT

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(CNSNews.com) - In the 2016-2017 school year, 11-man tackle football continued to be the most popular sport for high school boys in the United States as the number playing nationwide topped 1,000,000 for the 18th year in a row, according to data published by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Alabama ranked No. 1 among the 50 states and the District of Columbia for the percentage of male high school athletes within its borders who played 11-man tackle football, according to the data.

(See below for the rankings of all 50 states and the District of Columbia.)

In the 2016-2017 school year, boys' participation in high school athletics equaled 4,563,238. This number includes all boys who played any sport, but also counts individuals who played two sports twice and individuals who played three sports three times. While overall boys' participation in high school sports was 4,563,238 in 2016-2017, there were 1,057,407 boys who specifically played 11-man tackle football during that school year. Thus, nationwide, high school boys playing tackle football equaled 23.17 percent of the overall athletics participation number (4,563,238) for high school boys.

After football, outdoor track and field was the most popular athletic pursuit among high school boys, with 600,135 participating nationwide. Basketball was third with 550,305; baseball was fourth with 491,790; and soccer was fifth with 450,234.

The popularity of football among male high school athletes varied regionally across the country—with Southern states tending to have the highest football participation rates and the Northeastern states tending to have the lowest.

In Alabama, where the overall boys' athletic participation number was 86,568, there were 30,404 playing football—or 35.12 percent of the overall participation number.

Texas ranked second with 491,042 boys participating in high school sports and 163,922—or 33.38% percent—playing football.

Mississippi was third, with football equaling 33.02 percent of boys' overall athletics participation; Tennessee was fourth with 32.19 percent; Louisiana was fifth with 31.74 percent; South Carolina was sixth with 29.94 percent; Georgia was seventh with 27.85 percent; West Virginia was eighth with 27.36 percent; Arkansas was ninth with 27.23 percent, and Oklahoma was tenth with 26.46 percent.

Playing football was least popular among male high school athletes in Maine—which ranked 51st out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia for the percentage of participation in football. With an overall participation number of 28,054 for high school boys, Maine only 3,631—or 12.94 percent—playing football.

Vermont ranked 50th, with only 13.52 percent. New Hampshire ranked 49th with 14.06 percent; Massachusetts ranked 48th with 14.98 percent; New Jersey ranked 47th with 15.20 percent; Pennsylvania ranked 46th with 15.23 percent; New York ranked 45th with 15.69 percent; Connecticut ranked 44th with 15.91 percent; Alaska ranked 43rd with 15.92 percent; and Delaware ranked 42nd with 16.84 percent.

In addition to the 1,057,407 high school boys nationwide who played 11-man tackle football in the last school year, there were also 1,992 girls who played 11-man tackle football, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations data.

The percentage of male high school athletic participants who played 11-man tackle football dropped slightly from the 2015-2016 school year to the 2016-2017 school year. In 2015-2016, overall boys' athletic participation was 4,541,959, while 1,080,693—or 23.79 percent—played football. In 2016-2017, overall boys' participation was 4,563,238, while 1,057,407—or 23.17 percent—played football.

In the years since 1977, according to the federation’s data, the popularity of football among male high school athletes peaked in 1984, when it hit 29.4 percent of all participation. Of 3,354,284 overall male high school sports participants that year, 984,712 played football.

The actual number of high school boys playing football peaked in 2008, when it hit 1,108,286. That year 25.15 percent of the overall boys' athletics participants played 11-man tackle football.

The 1,057,407 high school boys who played football in the last school year exceeded the 600,136 who participated in track and field by 457,271—or 76.2 percent.

The 1,057,407 high school boys who played football last year also exceeded the 450,234 who played soccer by 607,173—or 134.9 percent.

Among female high school athletes in the 2016-2017 school year, outdoor track and field was the most popular participation sport (494,477) followed by volleyball (444,779), basketball (430,368), soccer (388,339) and fast-pitch softball (367,405).


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