It’s September, and the kids are back in school. For high school athletes on their schools’ fall sports team rosters, it’s also back to practice.
More than 240,000 Minnesota high school students participated in sports last year — a record, according to data from the National Federation of State High School Associations’ annual participation survey, and Minnesota punched above its weight — ranking 10th among states (it’s the 22nd biggest state by population) for high school sports participation in the U.S.
But while more kids are playing sports in Minnesota, not all sports are seeing a bump in popularity. Here’s a look at what sports are gaining, what sports are losing and whether Minnesota is really the state of hockey.
Participation is up — for girls and boys.
Between 2002 and 2017, the number of high school students — both girls and boys — participating in high school sports has gone up. While there are still fewer girls who participate than boys, the number of girls playing sports has increased, and they’re nearly even now.
Track and football top the lists
For high school girls, the most popular sports are track and field, which has seen a big increase in interest in recent years, volleyball and softball.
For boys, football is still the biggest sport, despite a decline in participation in recent years (more on that later). That’s followed by track and field, basketball, baseball and soccer.
Some sports, like football, are losing popularity
All the bad press surrounding football and concussions might be having an impact on the number of high school kids who play the game in Minnesota. Nationally, that’s been the case.
One of the most popular sports to begin with, football saw the biggest decline in players of any sport in recent years, from about 30,000 participants, at its recent peak in 2007 to about 25,000 last year.
Among boys’ sports, golf and wrestling have seen much smaller decreases in participation, but are nonetheless down over previous years.
When it comes to girls’ sports, there aren’t such marked reductions in players in any sport, but swimming and diving, basketball and golf are all down over their early 2000s levels.
Track, lacrosse and others see steady gains for girls and boys
If football is the biggest loser of high school student players, track and field is the biggest gainer, adding nearly 6,000 students between 2002 and 2017. Lacrosse, likewise, added a lot of players (girls’ lacrosse data are missing for 2003 and boys’ lacrosse data are not available before 2006), as did cross country and soccer.
The state of hockey is strong…
While participation in ice hockey is down slightly for girls and boys, Minnesota is home to one-fifth of all the high school hockey players across the country accounted for in the survey.
Minnesota has the second-highest number of hockey players of any state, after Massachusetts, but when you look at hockey on a per-capita basis, Minnesota, a smaller state with just a few fewer hockey players — is the state of hockey.
…but the state of cross-country skiing is even stronger
Slogans aside, where Minnesota really stands out among states is Nordic skiing: Minnesota is home to about half the high school Nordic skiers in the entire country. So perhaps its not surprise that half the team that won the United States’ first-ever Olympic gold in cross-country skiing was from Minnesota (that would be Jessie Diggins, a Stillwater Area High School graduate).