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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Led by an additional 15,009 participants in girls sports programs, the overall number of participants in high school sports increased for the 29th consecutive year in 2017-18, according to the annual High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations. 

The number of participants in high school sports in 2017-18 reached an all-time record high of 7,979,986, according to figures from the 51 NFHS member state high school associations, which includes the District of Columbia. The number of girls participating in high school sports reached an all-time high of 3,415,306, and boys participation also set a new standard at 4,564,680. Notably, the figures include multiple-sport athletes being counted for each sport they participated in during the year.

Wisconsin ranks 14th on the list with a reported 181, 500 participants in athletics alone. Participation numbers  in other states include other NFHS activities outside of athletics or sports not sponsored by the WIAA membership. 

The top 10 states by participants remained the same; however, Ohio moved ahead of Illinois into fourth place this year. Texas and California topped the list again with 824,619 and 819,625 participants, respectively, followed by New York (378,065), Ohio (347,567), Illinois (338,848), Pennsylvania (319,867), Florida (311,361), Michigan (296,625), New Jersey (281,800) and Minnesota (240,433).

While the number of additional 16,451 participants this year was not as substantial as last year‘s increase of 94,635, a steady increase in several boys and girls sports extended the streak to a record-breaking 29th year.
Among boys sports, soccer registered the largest gain with 6,128 additional participants. Among the other boys sports with sizeable gains were cross country (3,824), volleyball (3,767) and golf (2,558). The girls sport sponsored by the WIAA that has experienced the largest increase in participation nationally was swimming and diving at 4,797 followed by golf at 3,176. 

With 1,035,942 participants, 11-player football remains the No. 1 participatory sport for boys in high school by a large margin. Outdoor track and field is No. 2 with 600,097 participants, followed by basketball (551,373), baseball (487,097), soccer (456,362), cross country (270,095), wrestling (245,564), tennis (158,151), golf (144,024) and swimming/diving (138,935).

Outdoor track and field continues to lead the way for girls with 488,592 participants, followed by volleyball (446,583), basketball (412,407), soccer (390,482), softball (367,861), cross country (223,518), tennis (190,768) and swimming/diving (175,594).

“There are many positives about the numbers in this year’s sports participation survey,” said NFHS Executive Director Karissa Niehoff. “First, the upward trek of interest in high school sports continued for the 29th consecutive year. The model of sports within the education-based school system continues to thrive in the United States.

“Second, we are encouraged that the decline in high school football has slowed due, in part, to our efforts in reducing the risk of injury in the sport,” she continued. “While there may be other reasons that students elect not to play football, we have attempted to assure student-athletes and their parents that thanks to the concussion protocols and rules in place in every state in the country, the sport of football is as safe as it ever has been.” 

The participation survey has been compiled in its current form by the NFHS since 1971 through numbers it receives from its member state associations. The top 10 sports for boys and girls and the year-by-year participation totals are listed below. The complete 2017-18 High School Athletics Participation Survey is available via the following link: http://www.nfhs.org/ParticipationStatistics/ParticipationStatistics/.

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Release by NFHS & WIAA Communications

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