It’s not hard to find articles addressing recent dips in high school football participation and in high school sports participation in general.
Every state faces its own unique circumstances.
In Illinois, football participation is at a 26-year low (Chicago Tribune). In California, numbers are down again, following a consistent trend (L.A. Times). Numbers are also down in New Mexico as several schools are playing as independents (Associated Press).
The same problems are happening in North Carolina (football participation down 23% over 10 years), Connecticut (big drops in participation), Minnesota (flat now but down over five years), Kentucky, Maine, and, yes, Wyoming… You name the state, and it’s probably seeing drops in high school football participation.
As noted, Wyoming is not immune. Figures from the National Federation of High Schools — the same figures used in every single story linked above — show Wyoming’s football participation numbers dropping, but the Equality State has a different picture than most other states.
In all, Wyoming had 2,654 high school football players in the 2018 season, combining totals of 11-man, six-man and girls, which the NFHS tallies separately. In 2017, Wyoming had 2,847 high school football players — meaning the state had a drop of about 6.8 percent from year to year, typical of the kind of drops that made headlines across the country.
Moreover, 2018’s total of 2,654 players was Wyoming’s lowest since 2004, when 2,621 high schoolers played football.
But there’s no reason to panic in Wyoming. Yet.
For now, the 2018 drop in football participation looks to be an anomaly, totally within range of normal participation figures over the past 30-plus years.
Since 1987, Wyoming has had somewhere between 2,618 and 2,924 players come out, with the lowest total coming in 2003 and the highest in 1987. The 2018 total of 2,847 was the state’s fifth-highest total since 1987. In the four seasons between 2014 and 2017, Wyoming was above 2,800 every season, something that had NEVER happened over four consecutive years since NFHS data became more consistent starting in 1979.
If we looked at this data a year ago, we could have said Wyoming was seeing unprecedented growth and consistency.
Also, within the past 30 years, Wyoming has seen drops in participation like this before and has always rebounded. This chart compares Wyoming’s football participation trends to the country:
Here’s a table showing Wyoming’s high school football participation tallies, as provided by the NFHS since 1987 (click on the column headers to sort):
|Year||Total Football Players|
(NFHS data prior to 1987 looks really inconsistent when compared to previous seasons — for example, in 1981, Wyoming’s NFHS numbers come in at 1,432, sandwiched between seasons of more than 2,100. So I made the decision to start this analysis at 1987. Numbers include totals of 11-, 9-, 8- and 6-man, both boys and girls.)
Yes, Wyoming high school football participation fell off by almost 7 percent from 2017 to 2018. And yes, drops in participation are affecting programs.
And yes, nationwide, participation in high school sports in aggregate is down, as is participation in football specifically.
For now, last year’s dip in Wyoming looks like an anomaly, not the start of a trend that mirrors what’s happening nationwide.