Participation in high school athletics reached an all-time high in California, according to data released Wednesday by the California Interscholastic Federation.
Boys and girls swimming and diving, boys and girls golf and girls wrestling saw solid increases by percentage, according to its 2018 CIF Sports Participation Survey. Overall, there were 808,567 boys and girls student-athletes competing statewide, up 2.95 percent since 2017.
The most popular boys sports were football (94,286 participants), track and field (56,606) and soccer (53,363). Most popular among girls were soccer (47,186), track and field (46,327) and volleyball (45,139). Male athletes outnumbered female athletes by 459,171-349,386.
While most sports saw increases, football dropped for the third straight year, falling by 2.87 percent. After seeing an increase to 103,725 in 2015, participation last year fell to 94,286, which was down from 97,079 the previous season.
In the Sac-Joaquin Section, participation in football last year was down 3.3 percent, falling to 12,374, according to Will DeBoard, the section’s assistant commissioner.
That number coincides with what Downey coach Jeremy Plaa has seen in recent years.
He said Modesto City Schools saw its first dip in football numbers in 2016. He said last year, freshman participation for his program fell to 45, off from 55 the year before. This year, he has 45 freshmen on the squad, which began practice last week.
He said he fully understands the “concussion scare,” and the reticence some parents might have about having their children play. He pointed out, however, that better coaching, better equipment and more safeguards — like Modesto City Schools’ mandated concussion sensors on helmets — have helped ensure safety.
Scott Edwards, head football coach at Central Valley High in Ceres, said his numbers have remained the same in recent years. What can hurt participation, he said, is children not playing at the youth level.
“Interest is never regained or gained if they didn’t play at a young age,” he said.
Oakdale coach Trent Merzon said his numbers have remained steady through the years despite a “strong media push about the dangers of football.”
Having taken the helm of the Mustangs in 2000, Merzon said last year’s turnout was the highest he’s seen and that the youth program is “jam-packed full.”
Said Gregori coach Jason McCoy on the decline: “It takes a special person to play football. There are so many kids these days playing video games, on their phones or social media. As a whole, this generation is soft.”
The high track and field numbers — more than 100,000 boys and girls combined — seemed fitting to Bergann Hernandez, head coach of the Turlock High program.
She said coaches from other sports see a benefit for their athletes.
“There’s a push for football players to do track simply to get them into more speed and explosive work,” she said. “On the girls side, some of my stronger athletes are soccer and volleyball players.”
Other numbers of note — girls cross country and boys tennis saw a slight dip in participation, while competitive cheer broke into the Top 10 among girls sports.
Top Boys Sports
|Sport||Participants||+/_ since 2017|
|Track and Field||56,606||+1.02%|
Top Girls Sports
|Sport||Participants||+/_ since 2017|
|Track and Field||46,327||+0.11%|
GRIGGS OH SO CLOSE — A tip of the hat to Manteca’s Tyler Griggs, who missed getting into a playoff to qualify for match-play by one stroke at the U.S. Junior Amateur golf tournament. Playing at famed Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. — where Jack Nicklaus won the 1980 U.S. Open — Griggs shot an 8-over-par 149 for two rounds. Eight players shot 148, with three moving ahead into match play after a playoff. Griggs shot 76 in the opening round, but closed with a 73 that included birdies on 17 and 18. The course played as a Par 71 on Day 1 and a Par 70 on Day 2. Griggs had four birdies, eight bogeys and two doubles to go along with 22 pars.
MJC KICKOFF DINNER — The annual Modesto Junior College Kickoff Dinner is Saturday, Aug. 16 in the Agriculture Center on the west campus. Coach Rusty Stivers and his assistant coaches will be there to answer questions. The dinner starts with a social at 6 p.m. followed by dinner, an auction and opportunity drawing at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $50 and include a 2018 season pass to MJC home games. The Pirates open the season at home against Laney College. Tickets can be purchased by going to mjc.edu/athletics and follow the links.
SPORTS PHYSICALS — School and sports physicals will be offered to hundreds of students at Hilmar High on Saturday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. The physicals were made possible by a grant from Legacy Health Endowment given to Valley Children’s Healthcase, which will be given to children free of charge if they live in the endowment’s 19 zip code area — 95301, 95303, 95307, 95313, 95315, 95316, 95322, 95324, 95326, 95328, 95334, 95358, 95360, 95363, 95374, 95380, 95381, 95382, and 95388. The high school is at 7807 Lander Ave. For questions, please contact Valley Children’s Healthcare Foundation at 559-353-7100.
THIS AND THAT — The CIF signed a three-year agreement with Baden Sports to become the official ball of the CIF Regional Championships through 2021. ... While football players began practice last week, most other fall sports began practicing on Monday. Water polo can start practicing on Aug. 13.