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Football Outlook Promising With Rise in Participants

By Robert Gardner and Tom Mezzanotte on November 21, 2014 hst Print

This issue marks the beginning of our eighth year of publication for High School Today, and, as the cover story indicates, participation in high school sports during the 2013-14 school year continued its upward climb for the 25th consecutive year.

Not only did overall participation reach an all-time high of almost 7.8 million student-athletes, the increase of 82,081 participants from the previous year was the largest one-year jump in four years. In addition, last year’s increase in participants occurred despite an overall drop in student enrollment of approximately 75,000 at the more than 19,000 high schools associated with NFHS-member state associations.

Girls participation increased for the 25th consecutive year, while boys participation eclipsed 4.5 million for the first time. On the girls side, volleyball gained the most participants, and baseball made the largest gain among boys sports. We are encouraged that schools are continuing to respond to the funding challenges, and are particularly pleased to see that the increase this past year was evenly distributed between boys and girls.

While this information speaks volumes about the positive state of high school athletics nationwide, perhaps the best news from the 2013-14 survey was the first increase in football participation in five years. In a year when concern about concussions had some people questioning the future of the sport, a total of 1,093,234 boys participated in 11-player football across the country – an increase of 6,607 from the previous year.

Obviously, we are very encouraged by these numbers. While much concern has been raised about the fear of concussions reducing interest in high school football, we believe the sport is as safe as it ever has been. And this past year’s rise in participation numbers certainly supports that belief.

Now, more than ever before, precautions are in place to reduce the risk of serious injury resulting from concussions. We are able to recognize the signs and symptoms of concussions, and protocols are in place to remove athletes from competition when a concussion is suspected.

The NFHS has specifically addressed concussion management in all rules books for several years, and more than one million individuals have taken our online course – “Concussion in Sports.” Several points of emphasis have been published in the Football Rules Book regarding limiting helmet-to-helmet contact and blows to the head with the shoulder, forearm and hand. In addition, the NFHS has disseminated multiple publications regarding concussion management to member state associations.

While much has been done the past several years to minimize the risk of concussions in high school sports, there is much left to do, and the NFHS Board of Directors and Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, as well as our 51-member state associations are committed to the continued reduction of concussions.

To that end, at the request of the NFHS Board of Directors, a task force consisting of medical and scientific experts, high school football coaches, state association leaders and representatives of several stakeholder organizations was assembled in Indianapolis this past July. For three days, 28 key leaders in these areas discussed strategies to reduce head exposure and concussion risk for high school football players during contests and practices.

The recommendations from this task force will be discussed with NFHS-member state associations this fall and presented to the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and NFHS Board of Directors in October. Once these recommendations for the continued reduction of head exposure in high school football are finalized, state associations will be able to formulate their own state-specific procedures for the 2015 season.

While there will always be an inherent risk of injury in the sport of football, we believe these guidelines will be a tremendous help as we continue in our efforts to minimize the risk of concussions while maintaining the integrity of the game. It is obvious from this past year’s survey that the interest in high school football remains strong, but we want to assure parents, students and everyone else associated with high school sports that everything possible is being done to reduce that risk of injury.

As the 2014 football season gets underway across the country, we urge everyone involved with high school sports to follow the established guidelines for concussion management. We look forward to an exciting year of high school sports.