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High school sports participation rises nationwide, in Maryland

More boys play football than any other high school sport, track and field is tops with girls.

An increase in the number of female student-athletes drove an overall rise in the number of teenagers participating in high school sports nationwide and in Maryland during the past school year, according to annual statistics released Thursday by the National Federation of High School Associations.

Maryland, which ranks 23rd among all states in overall high school sports participation, added 1,278 female athletes, but unlike the national average, the state also saw a rise in the number of boys with an additional 720, according to the NFHS’s 2014-15 High School Athletics Participation Survey. The survey tracks only schools that are members of the NFHS and in Maryland, only public schools belong to the NFHS.

In Maryland, public school participation rose from 116,104 student-athletes in 2013-14 to 118,102 in 2014-15. The number of boys rose from 66,744 to 67,464 and girls from 49,360 to 50,638.

"It's good to see our numbers as strong as they are. They show consistency and I think that's a great thing," said Andy Warner, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, which provides statistics to the NFHS.

"I look at this and see 11 consecutive years of over 100,000 student participation opportunities and in the past eight years, it's been over 110,000 opportunities for our public school students," Warner added. "I think that's tremendous that our school systems put forth that effort and that our association puts forth that effort because it shows they believe in the true value of what students are realizing from participation in high school sports."

Despite adding about 2,000 players from the previous school year, Maryland dropped a spot in total participation from 22nd in 2013-14. Texas had the most high school athletes followed by California, New York, Illinois and Ohio.

The top high school sport for boys nationwide was football with 1,083,617 players – more than twice the number of any other sport except for outdoor track and field. Football was tops in Maryland, too, with 14,293 players.

Track and field ranked second in Maryland with 6,943 boys followed by soccer with 6,738, lacrosse with 6,276, basketball with 5,651 and baseball with 5,590.

Across the country, track and field was second followed by basketball, baseball and soccer. Lacrosse didn’t crack the top 10.

In Maryland, boys participation in basketball, cross country, outdoor track and field and soccer increased over the 2013-14 season while each of the other sports saw a small decline in participation.

For girls, outdoor track and field had the most participants nationwide with 478,726 participants as well as in Maryland where 5,862 competed last spring. Soccer was second among Maryland girls with 5,805 players followed by volleyball with 5,281, softball with 5,074, lacrosse with 4,850 and basketball with 4,726.

Nationwide, volleyball moved ahead of basketball to take the No. 2 spot. Soccer was fourth and softball sixth. Lacrosse ranked 10th.

Four of the top six girls sports in Maryland increased in participation – outdoor track, volleyball, softball and basketball.

Maryland's totals - and those of some other states - also include students participating in corollary sports, also known as unified or allied sports, that provide students with disabilities the chance to participate in interscholastic athletics. The state had 5,368 students participate in such corollary sports as softball, soccer, bowling and track.

According to the survey, the total number of students participating in high school sports in 2014-15 was 7,807,047, the most since the NFHS began tracking participation in the 1971-72 school year. Girls participation grew by 20,071 athletes to reach 3,287,735, the highest number ever recorded. Boys participation dropped behind last year’s record numbers to 4,519,312 after losing 8,682 athletes.

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