FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 18, 2019
Student-athlete participation in Kentucky High School Athletic Association sports and sport-activities reached record levels in 2018-19 as 106,931 rostered participants competed across the KHSAA’s 13 sports and six sport-activities – surpassing last year’s then-record total of 106,241. Thirty-two percent of all student-athletes competed in multiple sports during the 2018-19 academic year, helping total KHSAA participation rise by 7,288 rostered participants from where it was six years ago (an increase of 6.8% since the 2012-13 season). Participant counts are cumulative among all KHSAA rosters and continue an upward trend in participation across the board according to the data submitted to the National Federation of State High Schools (NFHS) in Indianapolis.
Participation numbers have also been impacted over the last eight years by the addition of six sport-activities (Archery, Bass Fishing, Bowling, Competitive Cheer, Dance and esports) and the sport of Field Hockey. KHSAA participation in 2018-19 was also boosted by the continued growth of the Unified and Adapted Track & Field and Bowling programs, which had an increase of 128 competitors this past season to bring total participation to 475. Participation numbers submitted to the NFHS do not yet include esports, which was sanctioned for the first time in 2018-19 and featured 70 school squads and 588 participants during the first year of its offering.
Football remains the most popular sport in the state in terms of participation with 13,075 student-athletes across all levels (42 females) playing for 221 schools. Though participation in football dropped by 229 student-athletes from 2017-18 to 2018-19, the 13,075 participants last season are more than a low of 11,934 in the 2003 season and eclipse the Association’s average of 13,033 football participants from 2002-2017. Part of the decline in participation numbers can be attributed to a greater push by the Association for accurate roster entry from its member schools.
“Our participation numbers are always based solely on the rosters submitted by the membership,” said KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett. “For 2018-19, our schools reported 13,033 boys playing football [freshmen, JV, varsity] and an additional 42 girls, down from 13,271 boys with 26 girls in 2017-18. This continues a three-year trend from the all-time high of 14,305 in 2015-16 and certainly follows a national trend in this one sport. While our varsity numbers were again only down less than one student per team [11,638 total compared to 11,830 the year prior], it has to be concerning to our schools that non-varsity participation continues to decrease, as this is a predictor of future varsity participation. The consolidation of freshmen and junior varsity programs to one non-varsity program has continued in many areas and likely is a factor in the overall reduction.
“It is certainly disappointing to see this decline in participation, but it is not a problem isolated to Kentucky. While the sport has never been safer, in terms of both rules and equipment, the combination of declining school enrollments and many choosing other sports with a perceived lower risk of injury as an alternative, are having an impact on football participation. We also have to look at the bigger picture. Prior to our expansion to additional classes for playoff opportunities, our participant number was 11,934 in 2002-03 before reaching that 2015-16 high of 14,305. So we have to look at this as a long-term problem whose solutions and a resultant increase in participation will likely be longer term and slowly accomplished.”
While overall participation increased from 2017-18 to 2018-19, seven of the Association’s offerings saw a decrease this past season, including Football, Basketball, Cross Country, Golf and Softball.
“Football is not our only concern point. We have had a 25% decline in boys’ golf participation since 2002, from a high water mark of 2,722 boys in 2002-2003 to last year’s low point of 2,035. Girls’ golf has also declined during that same time, from that high mark in 2002-2003 of 1,379 to its lowest level on record of 1,138 in 2018-2019,” said Tackett. “We have to do things at the local and early levels to get more kids at more schools opportunities to address sports in decline like that.”
Among the sports with separate teams for each gender (boys and girls), Track & Field was the most popular sport in the state with an all-time high of 12,464 participants. Soccer finished close behind Track & Field with 12,450 participants, followed by Basketball at 12,211.
Track & Field saw the greatest year-over-year growth in terms of increased participants, with 438 additional student-athletes in 2018-19 versus 2017-18 (an increase of 3.6 percent). Archery ranked second with 218 new participants, while Competitive Cheer (181), Bass Fishing (154), Dance (145) and Swimming & Diving (119) each added over 100 new competitors.
“We have seen an increase in swimming participation from 2,889 boys and girls in 2002-2003 to 3,764 this past year. Increasing regions and regular season opportunities has resulted in a resurgence in participation,” added Tackett. “We have to continually look at all of our offerings, not just the micro view of a championship event but overall regular and early round postseason opportunities to see if growth opportunities exist. Leaving things as they were just because that’s the way they’ve always been done, or because small groups were satisfied with their niche, doesn’t bode well for a statewide entity.”
On the girls’ side, Volleyball was the most popular sport with 6,264 participants, followed by Soccer (5,847), Softball (5,626), Track & Field (5,591), Basketball (5,273) and Competitive Cheer (5,081). Overall female participation reached a high of 49,193 rostered participants in 2018-19, an increase of 7.8 percent from 2012-13, with 11,114 multi-sport student-athletes (29.2 percent of all female participants).
Among boys’ sports, Baseball was second in the state behind Football with 7,143 participants. Basketball ranked third overall at 6,938, followed by Track & Field (6,873), Soccer (6,603), Cross Country (3,157) and Archery (2,597). Overall male participation also established a new record high with 57,738 rostered participants in 2018-19, which marked an increase of 5.9 percent from the 2012-13 season, with 14,744 multi-sport student-athletes (34.3 percent of all male participants).
Competitive Cheer was the most popular sport-activity with 5,247 total rostered participants last year, followed closely by Archery which topped 5,000 participants for the first time (5,101). Bowling (1,908) and Bass Fishing (1,606) were third and fourth among sport-activities.
Basketball ranked as the most-sponsored sport across Kentucky with 275 schools offering a team. Volleyball had the second-highest number of teams with 264, followed by Baseball (259), Track & Field (257) and Softball (256).
“We are certainly challenged to continue looking for ways to engage students. Without a doubt, participation in school-based and school-identifiable interscholastic programs are the number one dropout prevention and academic achievement incentivizing program available to our schools,” said Tackett. “We must evolve to be relevant and we will continue to analyze trends and look for new and improved opportunities while more thoroughly and constantly reviewing our long-standing offerings to be sure local expansion and growth remain an option. This means addressing the entry level in many cases, and not just the final championship events. We have to be sure we are addressing as many barriers to people getting involved at that first entry level as is possible if interscholastic events are to remain relevant for the long haul.”
The complete NFHS participation report, along with historical data, is available online at Member School Data | Kentucky High School Athletic Association