By Ken Reed

The number of boys playing high school football continues to decline across America. In some states, the decline has been significant.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, the number of boys playing high school football has fallen 15 percent over the last six years in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. In Colorado, the decline has been 14 percent. Football participation has declined 8 percent in Massachusetts and Maryland, 7 percent in New York and 4 percent in California.

Interestingly, this could be one more partisan issue in America. The states with the biggest declines have been those that have voted Democratic the past two presidential elections. That’s true of the states highlighted above.

Blue America is deciding it doesn’t want its sons playing football at a faster rate than Red America.

Another interesting statistical note is that each of the states noted above are also among the most highly educated states in the nation, based on the share of the population with at least a bachelor’s degree.

On another front, a growing number of high school football games and seasons have been cancelled this year due to injury problems and safety concerns.

“Rosters, already thinned by declining interest in football at some schools, were further reduced by injuries to the point that coaches and administrators opted to pull teams off the field,” wrote John Branch and Billy Witz in a recent New York Times article.

“I never thought in a million years that I’d have trouble finding kids to play,” said Cherry High School (MN) football coach Justin Bakkethun in the Times piece. Cherry High cancelled the remainder of its season when injuries and low numbers became a serious concern.

Examples of schools having to forfeit games or seasons have been noted in recent years but the steady report of forfeitures this season has made this year stand out.

One school has been shellshocked by the death of a football player last season.

At Arlington High School in Riverside, Calif. Tyler Lewellen, a 16-year-old defensive back, died after sustaining a brain injury in a scrimmage at the start of last season.

“This season was supposed to be a step toward normalcy,” wrote Branch and Witz, regarding Arlington High. “But participation plummeted so sharply that the junior varsity team was dropped, while the aversion to contact in a sport that demands it has remained, as has a heightened awareness of injuries. The Lions are 0-8, and none of their games have been close.”

One mistake that writers, coaches and parents continue make is assuming that youth football is safer than high school football because the players don’t hit as hard. That’s a dangerous assumption, one rebutted by research.

“Brain trauma in youth sports, especially football, is both a scientific and moral issue,” according to Patrick Hruby, a journalist who has made the made the concussion issue a focus area. “A recent study showed that the impact of hits in youth football have the same impact as hits in college football.

“I believe the most important issue by far is brain trauma, especially when you consider the huge number of children participating in sports. Children’s brains are still developing. Brain trauma at young ages can have lasting negative effects.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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