SPECIAL REPORT: High school football participation declining in mid-Missouri

High schools in mid-Missouri are reflecting a national trend toward declining interest in one of the nation's most popular sports. (File)

High schools in mid-Missouri are reflecting a national trend toward declining interest in one of the nation's most popular sports: football.

Both nationwide and statewide, high school football participation saw a drastic decline in 2018.

Nationwide, football participation is down seven percent and schools in Missouri are starting to see the drop.

Jason West with the Missouri State High School Association said this year the number of kids trying out for football in the Show-Me State decreased by more then 800 students.

"Over the last four to five years, we have seen a steady decrease, maybe 100 students from year to year or 200. But, a drop of 800 students this year is a significant increase in that drop," West said.

Coaches in mid-Missouri said the 2018 school year was the worst turnout for the sport they'd seen in years.

"Freshman football games for schools in the Class 2 and 3 size are almost non-existent now where as we used to have games scheduled. I do think the declining numbers have hurt that somewhat," South Callaway Athletic Director Tony Brandt said.

Brandt said he thinks one reason fewer athletes are trying out for football could be linked to new after-school activities.

"There are new after school activities for kids to participate in," Brandt said. "With possible injuries associated with Football I think kids and parents are looking at other options for extra curricular activities."

Schools like North Shelby dropped from the standard 11-man squad to an eight-man team three years ago, when the decline in participation first started.

With lack of funding and athletes, North Shelby football coach Seth Bass said after three years as an eight man squad, he thinks it was the best decision for the program.

"I think small schools maybe think that they don't need to go 8-man unless they are down in the low teens in numbers, but anyone can relate to our story of having a lot of skilled guys and not enough lineman is a struggle we fight," Bass said.

According to the National Federation of State High School Association, football is considered to be a high risk sport, and injuries can be common.

Brandt said the focus on injuries may be why participation numbers are down.

"With the push and focus on concussions and injuries in football, that may be keeping kids away and keeping parents from allowing them to play," he said.

Here in Missouri, West said, with new injury tests, rules and regulations, high school football is safer than ever, but coaches like Bass said they just hope the participation numbers start to come back up.

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