Numbers down, optimism up for high school sports

By: Javin Stutzman

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Participation in High School sports have been declining in Michigan over the past few years.  With the declining numbers, many people are concerned that in the future they will have to do away with high school sports. There are many theories of why the numbers are declining.

“There are lots of reasons that numbers have gone down.  One reason is that schools simply offer more options now,” Varsity Football Coach Chad Miller said. “Even the sports that don’t happen during football season compete with football because there are only so many things that a family can afford to have their kid participating in before all the travel, expenses, etc. add up.  In addition, you can’t overlook the fear of concussions and the impact it has had on football.”

According to the Wall Street Journal participation in football, baseball, basketball, and soccer has fallen 4% from 2008 to 2012. While 4% doesn’t seem like a lot, if you take 4% of the 7.8 million (according to high school athletes today that would mean that 312,000 kids quit playing high school sports. MHSAA in 2013 said that there is an overall decline of 1.2% with an enrollment decline of 1.1%.

Football isn’t the only sport feeling the decline. Basketball has noticed a drop in the number of kids trying out for the team according to Boys Varsity Basketball Coach Brant Haverdink. “The unfortunate part is that kids who develop physically at a later date have typically given up the desire to play basketball by the time their bodies are able to play at a successful level.” Coach Haverdink added.

Volleyball has also seen a decrease with only 12 freshman girls trying out this year the lowest in the seven years that Varsity Coach Abbey Ekkens has been coaching. Coach Ekkens said that she feels the reason for the drop is due to the “B” teams at the middle school being cut, sport specialization of athletes, and the focus of students shifting to grades.

Swimming has even seen a decline in participants this year according to Coach Eric Talsma. “It makes it tough to be a strong dual meet team when your numbers are thin.” There is a positive side to the decline according to Coach Talsma with lower numbers they can give the athletes more attention.

So with the sports seeing a decline in athletes, it begs the question: What can be done to improve the numbers? The coaches have ideas on how to help boost the participation numbers. Coach Miller said that it requires a “change in mindset” to help boost participants. Coach Talsma said the he believes it is cyclical and he seeing promising numbers from the middle school teams. Coach Ekkens took a community oriented approach by saying that we need more youth programs and to educate on the misconceptions of sport specialization. Varsity baseball coach Ken DeGood (who has not seen a decline in numbers) said,  “I think that in all our sports, a boost in participation can be done by making sure that it stays fun and that the coaches have a connection with the kids at an early age, not just when they get to high school.”

With the numbers declining, people are foreseeing a grim future for high school sports. There is still a ray of hope for high school sports, many of the coaches say that the projections of the upcoming year is looking promising. “ The number of players who have expressed interest and plan to play next year is actually up at all three levels from last year and the year before” Coach Miller said. Football numbers are expected to reach 40 kids up from the 30 from last year.  Coach Talsma said that the middle school teams are looking very promising with kids that “…like to be involved and have fun getting better at things.” Coach Ekkens also, due to an increase in the youth programs, says the numbers are looking promising.

So before we freak out about no more beloved high school sports the curve is believed to be trending upward again.  So we will still have Friday night football games in the fall, basketball games in the winter, baseball games in the spring and hallowed student section cheering on the Hawkeyes for years to come.

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