Study: As participation in high school sports declines, Minnesota's increases

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While high school sports participation is down across the country, it's rising in Minnesota. 

A study by the National Federation of High School Sports Associations found for the first time in 30 years participation in high school sports declined but Minnesota was one of three states where participation increased in the 2018-19 school year.

According to the annual study, only Minnesota, Texas and California saw an increase in the number of high school students participating in high school sports. In Minnesota, the total number of teens in sports in the 2018-19 school year was 240,487.

Hopkins High School Volleyball Coach Vicki Seliger Swenson says she thinks part of that increase is because of Minnesota’s focus on education.

“I think it starts with Minnesota historically being a very pro-education state. I think our schools are funded on the state level, local level and I think that’s really important,” Coach Seliger Swenson said.

She said since she started coaching volleyball here 25 years ago she’s seen how much the sport has grown. According to the NFHS study, participation in volleyball had an eight percent increase in the 2018-19 school year.

“What’s most important is who they become as young women they go to college they get their degree. I think there’s just a mental toughness to them they’re good leaders,” Coach Seliger Swenson said.

The Hopkins High School Football Coach John DenHartog shares the same attitude about developing players personally.

“We’re going to work really hard and we might win and we might lose and whatever it is we’re going to pick ourselves back up and try to get better and I think that’s a valuable life experience,” Coach DenHartog said.

He said he thinks those life lessons are why so many Minnesota parents encourage their kids to stick with sports.

“I think Minnesotans value the high school years and the experiences and the times they can get and they know having fun with team mates and working hard with team mates is a valuable thing,” Coach DenHartog said.

The study by NFHS also showed a nationwide decrease in the number of boys playing football for the fifth year in a row.  Coach DenHartog says like many other high schools across the country, he has seen a decrease in high school football participation over the past 10 years or so.  He said he thinks some of the decline is due to the fear of injuries like concussions. DenHartog said over the past few seasons he has seen a bit of an upward trend.

“We’re starting to do as little uptick I think. Our younger grades have more people out and more people interested,” Coach DenHartog said.

For some parents like Hopkins High School Volleyball Mom Aimee Blatz, part of the reason students might be attracted to high school sports could be to stay busy when the weather gets challenging.

“We have long winters. We have a long spring sometimes. It’s just about keeping them active and knowing that health and wellness isn’t just studying all the time it’s about being active,” Blatz said.

A statement from the Minnesota State High School League responding to the study said:

“The great participation numbers that we see in the state of Minnesota are a direct result of the great experiences that our student-participants have in each of their activities, and this stems from the great work by coaches, directors, administrators and officials in providing these great experiences for our kids. We see that growth because they are connecting with their school communities and staying involved, and knowing that this is a positive part of the high school experience.”