Connecticut football participation drops to lowest level since 2003

First day of conditioning/practice for Greenwich High School football, defending Class LL state champion, at the school in Greenwich on Aug. 26.

First day of conditioning/practice for Greenwich High School football, defending Class LL state champion, at the school in Greenwich on Aug. 26.

Matthew Brown / Hearst Connecticut Media

Connecticut high school football participation dropped for the third-straight year — by 182 players in 2018 — and fell to its lowest level in 15 years, according to new data released last week.

There were 9,017 boys and 42 girls who played football in Connecticut last year, compared to the 9,196 boys and 45 girls in 2017 — a decline of just under 2%.

The 9,059 Connecticut football players at 144 schools in 2018 were the least since 2003, when 9,040 played football at 130 schools.

Connecticut’s drop, while lower than the national average, follows the trend in the decline of football participation over the last 20 years.

Nationwide, football participation in 2018 dropped for the fifth-consecutive year, by 3% compared to the previous year, and reached its lowest mark since the 1999-2000 academic year, according to figures released by the National Federation of High School Associations.

Connecticut has seen annual declines of football participation in eight of the last 10 years. There are now 1,756 fewer football players than there were in 2009, when the state reached an all-time best participation of 10,815 players — a drop of 16%.

While the number of players has declined, the schools offering football remained steady the NFHS said in a press release. Small-squad football programs (6-, 8- and 9-man) saw an increase in participation, although there are no such CIAC programs in Connecticut.

“Certainly, we are concerned about the reduction in the number of boys involved in the 11-player game,” said NFHS executive director Dr. Karissa Niehoff, formerly of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Association (CIAC).

“… While we recognize that the decline in football participation is due, in part, to concerns about the risk of injury, we continue to work with our member state associations, the nation’s high schools and other groups to make the sport as safe as possible. Every state has enacted rules that limit the amount of contact before the season and during practices, and every state has concussion protocols and laws in place, so we continue to believe that the sport is as safe as it has ever been.”

Since 2013, the CIAC has implemented a number of rules designed to limit contact throughout the season. Last spring, it passed a rule that reduced contact drills from 90 minutes to 45 minutes each week beginning this fall.

Football wasn’t the only sport to see a decline, however. Boys and girls basketball also saw a combined drop in participation. Overall, participation in high school sports declined for the first time in 30 years, the NFHS said.

Eleven-man football remains the highest participatory sport in the country with just over 1 million boys.