Statewide participation figures for certain sports have been released, and the numbers continue to show the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on North Carolina.
Compared to the 2018-2019 school year, the last set of participation data released before the pandemic, participation was down in all but five high school sports in North Carolina: boys golf, girls golf, girls track and field , volleyball , and struggle.
The number of participants increased the most among girls in indoor sports: from 4,958 athletes in the 2018–2019 season to 8,978 athletes in the 2021–2022 season. This is notable because the indoor season was canceled during the 2020-2021 academic year, and the number of indoor boys actually decreased by 12.9% from 6,207 to 5,409.
Volleyball participation increased 1.4% from 9,442 to 9,574, the highest participation rate ever recorded in North Carolina for the sport. Girls golf remained steady at 1,405 golfers, the same number recorded in 2018-2019.
Wrestling and golf were the only boys’ sports to increase participation compared to the pre-pandemic era. Wrestling grew by 3.7% from 7,754 wrestlers in 2018-2019 to 8,042 wrestlers in 2021-22. During the same period, the number of boys golfers increased from 2,828 to 2,924 players, a 3.4% increase.
In eight sports there was a decrease of 10% or more
The news was not good for many sports. In fact, eight different sports — five boys’ sports and three girls’ sports — saw double-digit percentage declines in participation from 2018-2019 to 2021-22.
Cheerleading saw the biggest decline, with participation down 53.6% during the pandemic. In the 2018-2019 school year, cheerleading had 19,360 participants, but last year that number dropped to 8,987.
Swimming, diving and cross country were the other girls’ sports that saw double-digit percentage declines in participation. Girls swimming and diving fell 22.5% from 5,087 to 3,940, while girls cross country fell 21.4% from 5,063 to 3,979.
The largest percentage drop in boys’ sports occurred in cross country, which saw a 23.2% decrease. The number of boys participating in cross country has decreased from 6,268 in 2018-2019 to 4,812 in 2021-22.
Swimming and diving (-18.2%), indoor track and field (-12.9%), soccer (-12.5%) and tennis (-10.5%) were the other boys’ sports in which a double-digit percentage decrease was observed.
More of the same for football, women’s sports
The tendency to decrease participation in some conventional sports has persisted.
For the first time in the modern era, football has fallen ever closer to below 25,000 participants. The sport, which had more than 30,000 participants a decade ago, now reports 25,654 players — down 4.9% from the 2018-2019 school year. The indicators of the 2018-2019 season decreased by 5.7% compared to the 2017-2018 academic year.
Some girls’ sports that had previously struggled with participation continued to struggle last year. Softball participation fell 9.5% last year, falling below 7,000 participants. The number of softball players dropped from 7,491 in 2018-2019 to 6,778 in 2021-22.
Girls soccer fell below 10,000 for the first time since the 2014-2015 school year. Participation in women’s football last year was down 7.1% from 10,206 to 9,482.
Women’s basketball numbers also continue to decline. Sports participation decreased 5% from 7,649 to 7,264. Girls’ basketball participation last increased in the 2015-2016 school year, when the number of players increased by 0.8%.
The NCHSAA reported last week that participation in both boys and girls soccer and lacrosse increased from the pandemic-shortened seasons in 2020-21 to 2021-22, but the NCHSAA did not provide complete data for the 2020-21 school year for comparison.