For the 15th consecutive year, the number of students participating in high school athletics has increased, setting an all-time high for participation.

Based on figures from the 50 state high school athletic/activity associations, plus the District of Columbia, that are members of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), participation for the 2003-04 school year rose by 58,456 students, to 6,903,552, according to the 2003-04 High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the NFHS. This marked the sixth consecutive year that a record was established for participation in high school athletics.

The survey shows that more than half of all total enrolled high school students compete in athletics, 53.3 percent. This percentage of high school students participating in sports is higher than that of years past.

For example, this year’s participation rate shows a 1.6 percent increase over the 1994-95 participation percentage figure of 51.7 percent, a 5.1 percent increase over the 1989-90 figure of 48.2 percent, and 6.6 percent increase over the 1984-85 and 1980-81 (the first year for which student enrollment data is available) figures of 46.7 percent.

“We are extremely pleased to have set a participation record for the 15th consecutive year and to have well over half of all enrolled students competing in high school athletics,” said NFHS Executive Director Robert F. Kanaby. “The fact that there are nearly seven million high school sports participants in our nation’s high schools speaks volumes to the popularity of interscholastic sports and to how much these sports mean to our country’s youth.”

Participation numbers for both boys and girls increased. Boys athletics experienced the greater increase, going up 49,515 participants, while girls participation increased 8,941. The boys’ total of 4,038,253 is the fourth-highest overall, and highest since 1977-78, the last time boys participation surpassed the four million mark. The girls’ total of 2,865,299 sets an all-time high for female participation.

The biggest gaining sport among girls was soccer, which saw an increase of 7,582 participants. This brought the number of total participants to 309,032, making it the fifth-most popular girls program. Following soccer was tennis, which had an increase of 4,948 participants, and fast pitch softball with 4,556 more participants. Swimming and diving saw an increase of 3,097 more participants than last year, followed by an increase of 2,927 in the sport of cross country. Outdoor track and field, the second-most popular female sport, saw an increase of 2,720 participants, bringing its total participation number to 418,322.

Bowling had the greatest increase in number of schools, as an additional 291 schools offered the sport last year. Lacrosse was offered in 200 more schools and soccer was picked up by 191 schools.

Eleven-player football registered the largest increase among boys sports, adding 9,540 participants, while tennis added 8,094. Outdoor track and field (6,774) and cross country (4,595) also experienced significant gains in male participation.

As for sponsorship, bowling enjoyed the largest increase for the second straight year, with 196 new programs. Swimming and diving was second with an increase of 170 schools, followed by soccer with 116.
Basketball remained the most popular sport for girls with 457,986 participants, followed by outdoor track and field (418,322), volleyball (396,322), fast pitch softball (362,468), soccer (309,032), tennis (167,758), cross country (166,287), swimming and diving (144,565), competitive spirit squads (89,443) and golf (63,173).

On the boys’ side, 11-player football again is the most popular sport with 1,032,682 participants, followed by basketball (544,811), outdoor track and field (504,801), baseball (457,146), soccer (349,785), wrestling (238,700), cross country (196,428), golf (163,341), tennis (152,938) and swimming and diving (96,562).

Texas remained the state with the most participants with 754,828. It is followed by California (652,333), New York (336,987), Illinois (324,433), Ohio (303,505), Michigan (302,648), Pennsylvania (261,049), New Jersey (228,842), Minnesota (220,788) and Florida (212,760).

The participation survey has been compiled since 1971 by the NFHS through numbers it receives from its member associations. The complete 2003-04 Participation Survey will be available soon on the NFHS Web site .