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By Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff, NFHS Executive Director
When the annual High School Athletics Participation Survey was released
by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) in
August, many headlines across the country focused on the drop in the
number of boys playing 11-player football. After all, the report showed
30,829 fewer participants than the year before. However, perhaps the
most important number was overlooked – 14,247.
Yes, 14,247, the number of high schools with 11-player football teams.
While there was a slight decline in the number of participants in many
states, the number of schools sponsoring the sport was the highest in
five years. In fact, the number of schools last year with 11-player
teams has only been topped twice in the survey’s history – 14,262 in
2013-14 and 14,279 in 2010-11.
In addition, smaller schools in some states have shifted to 6-player,
8-player and 9-player football and have had good responses. The survey
indicates an additional 156 schools and 1,594 participants involved in
these alternate forms of the sport; and, in the past 10 years,
participation by girls in 11-player football has doubled, with more than
2,400 participants this past year.
These numbers express the desire by high schools to keep alive one of
the oldest and most treasured traditions in our nation – Friday Night
Football Under the Lights. Although there are many options today for the
entertainment dollar, nothing surpasses supporting the local high
school football team on Friday nights. The No. 1 fan base in America?
The answer is that number again – 14,247.
In Week 2 of the National Football League season, just under 1.1 million
fans attended the 16 games. While impressive, it doesn’t come close to
the number of fans who watched high school football during the
corresponding week. It’s all in that number – 14,247.
With approximately 7,123 games every Friday night (14,247 divided by 2),
and with a conservative estimate of 1,000 fans per game, there are more
than 7 million fans in high school football stadiums every week. An
unofficial attendance survey conducted by the NFHS in 2011 indicated
about 165 million fans attended high school football games during that
season, which included up to five weeks of playoffs and a weekly average
of 11 million fans. Either way, the number of fans at high school
football games dwarfs the numbers attending professional football games.
Early season crowds have been strong in many areas of the country with
terrific fall weather – current and former students; parents,
grandparents and friends of players on the team; longtime fans and
supporters in the community. Unlike crowds at the college and
professional levels where fans have little, if any, identity with the
players, there is a connection between the players and fans at the high
With concussion protocols and laws in place in every state, with a
reduction in contact levels before the season and during practices, and
with teaching of proper tackling skills at lower levels, we believe
people, including parents of high school student-athletes, are seeing
and believing that the sport of football at the high school level is as
safe as it ever has been.