New report shows nationwide decline in high school football

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio - When it comes to hard knocks it appears parents could be giving football it's biggest blow. New data shows the participation of high school boys in the sport is on a consistent downward spiral nationwide.

According to a study published by the National Federation of State High School Associations, 11 player high school football participation is on the decline for a second straight year, despite the high school sport remaining the number one choice for male teenage athletes.

"Obviously the publicity over the last eight to ten years with all the studies of CTE has parents probably feeling more weary about football," said Mark Wagner, the Director of Athletics for Rocky River City Schools.

Nevertheless, Wagner says involvement throughout the district has remained steady and in some cases increased in recent years.

"Football has constantly been under attack and we needed to adapt," said head coach Josh Wells.

The district does not allow 11 man tackle football until 6th grade. Wells says they have more than 90 children in their youth football program alone. He adds the district's high school concussion rate dropped dramatically in the past few years from up to six to now about two a season.

"We had to order equipment, extra equipment, extra helmets, pants, jerseys for kids," explained Wells, "It was very exciting to see. We're on of the lucky schools that we have a true seventh grade team, a true eighth grade team -- we have 24 to 25 kids."

The report ranks Ohio fourth nationwide, behind Texas, California and New York in terms of top states with the most high school athletes participating in any sport.

Although the data shows an increase in overall high school sports participation, it also notes, a minimal amount, 20 schools, have dropped their football programs due to a lack of players. The decline in numbers this year was not as low as 2016; the report shows the amount of student athletes participating in 6-player and 8-player football continues to increase.

Some students are turning to less traditional school sports. Lacrosse is listed as an emerging sport in the survey, with a total of 210,200 combines participants along with bowling, up to 60,000 student athletes nationwide.

"It's too much a part of the fabric of American culture," said Wagner about football, "I think we'll find ways to modify it to make it safer. I think you'll see things like the kick off go away in HS football and things like that some of those higher risk plays but I don't every see a day where there is not American football in the United States."