By Ken Reed

High school basketball teams are starting to practice in preparation for the 2022-23 season. But fewer girls will be playing this year.

Nationally, basketball has gone from the number one sport for girls in high school to the fourth most popular girls high school sport over the course of two decades.

Why? That’s the million dollar question. There are a bunch of theories but not much in the way of solid research.

Girls basketball has lost 19% of its players since 2002, while the top three girls sports, in order, all gained — track and field (+10%), volleyball (+15%), and soccer (+27%). In some states, the decline is even worse than the national number. In Texas, girls basketball participation is down 38% over 20 years. Iowa has half the number of female high school basketball players as they did in the late 1990s. The number of girls basketball teams in Nebraska has dropped by 12% over two decades. Meanwhile, the number of girls playing high school sports overall in Nebraska is up nearly 11% in the last decade.

Even basketball-crazy Indiana is feeling the effects of this trend. Indiana’s New Albany High School had to halt the girls junior varsity program in midseason last year because of dropping numbers. New Albany High School has 1,800 students and won the big-school girls state basketball championship in 1999.

Boys basketball participation at the high school level has also dropped over the last two decades but only by 4%, 15% less than the girls game.

Ironically, the drop in girls high school basketball participation occurred during a period when the women’s game grew in popularity. TV ratings for the women’s NCAA basketball tournament and the WNBA are on the rise.

Here’s a list of theories from coaches and other observers as to why the girls game is faltering:

* More girls are specializing in one sport year-round and many of them are not choosing basketball.

* Schools have added other sports for girls during the last 20 years, and those sports have pulled some girls from basketball.

* Some girls see basketball as too physically demanding.

* Club teams are a bigger phenomenon in sports like volleyball and soccer than they are in basketball and club teams have a lot of power over athletes and their parents.

* And then there’s this theory: Some girls believe basketball isn’t “girly” enough and the uniforms aren’t cute enough.

“It’s sad,” said Erica Delley, first-year head coach at Dallas’s Kimball High School (which was a regional power when Delley played there in the early 2000s). “That’s why I came back, to make a difference and try to encourage kids to play.”

Here’s hoping she and others who love basketball are successful.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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