Over 7.6 million high school students – slightly more than half of them boys – played sports during the 2021-2022 school year, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, marking a 4% decrease from pre-pandemic numbers.
Numerous studies have shown that playing sports can benefit students in a myriad of ways, and school closures and district sports cancellations may have detracted not only from student fitness levels, but also student performance in general.
Those who participate in sports tend to have lower dropout rates as well as higher test scores and GPAs. They are also less likely to use drugs or become teen parents. In addition, participation in extracurricular activities including sports is associated with better attendance records and higher college attendance. (Take a look at how high school students did on the ACT last year in every state.)
The benefits of high school sports can also extend beyond post-secondary education. A study published in the August 2000 MIT Review of Economics and Statistics showed that former student athletes tend to earn significantly higher incomes than non-athletes.
Basketball is the most commonly offered high school sport. In 2021, out of 23,519 public high schools around the country, 18,428 had basketball programs, while 17,070 offered outdoor track and field and 15,925 offered baseball. In terms of student participation, however, some sports are much more popular. (Here’s a ranking of the best public high schools in America.)
To compile a list of the 10 most popular sports for high school boys, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted and published by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Data is for the 2021/2022 school year.
Football is the most played boys’ sport, with 973,792 high school boys participating in gridiron programs. That’s over 40% more participants than in the next most popular boys’ sport, track and field. Baseball, basketball, soccer, and wrestling are also some of the most popular sports, on offer at thousands of high schools.
10. Swimming & diving
> Participants: 123,208
> High schools offering the sport: 7,831 — 10th most
> Participants: 145,858
> High schools offering the sport: 9,632 — 9th most
> Participants: 148,585
> High schools offering the sport: 13,631 — 6th most
7. Cross country
> Participants: 231,387
> High schools offering the sport: 15,710 — 4th most
> Participants: 231,874
> High schools offering the sport: 10,797 — 8th most
> Participants: 436,465
> High schools offering the sport: 12,539 — 7th most
> Participants: 481,004
> High schools offering the sport: 15,925 — 3rd most
> Participants: 521,616
> High schools offering the sport: 18,428 — the most
2. Track and Field (Outdoor)
> Participants: 569,262
> High schools offering the sport: 17,070 — 2nd most
1. Football (11-Player)
> Participants: 973,792
> High schools offering the sport: 13,733 — 5th most
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