High School Football Participation Declining

SACRAMENTO -- High school football is losing players year after year.

There are nearly 14,000 fewer kids playing high school football today than there were a decade ago.

Issues over cost, single-sport specialization and demographic shifts have been part of the cause, but concerns over injuries, specifically head injuries, have plagued the sport the most.

"We saw an uptick in concussions several years back and people started to get concerned, rightfully so, but ultimately we saw that as parents and students becoming more educated about what a concussion was and the signs and symptoms. So they actually reported it, and that's a good thing," CIF Associate Executive Director Ron Nocetti said.

When the concussion issue first took center-stage eight years ago, there was an immediate decline in youth football numbers, which have now carried over to the high school level.

Yet, those around the game say high school football is safer than it has ever been with better helmets and protective gear.

"There are protocols in place now for concussions, for heat illness, for sudden cardiac arrest," Nocetti said. "We've limited our practice time. It was 180 minutes a week. We just reduced that by half to 90 minutes a week."

Even the Grant Pacers, one of the top programs in the Sac-Joaquin section, has seen a decline.

"We've never started a season under 55 (kids). And this year, if we have everybody that's out here, we're in the low 40's. So, that's a significant change," Grant Union High School head coach Mike Alberghini said.

Alberghini says students will choose a different sport or even a job over football.

"You know, priorities are different and it's just different," he told FOX40.

While football at the high school level saw an almost three-percent drop in participation statewide from last year to this year, virtually every other sport saw an increase in the number of athletes.

"While football is still our most popular sport, our other sports are all gaining steam," Nocetti said. "So, not only are we assuming these athletes are going over to another sport, more athletes are joining them."