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Severe injury concerns may be causing sharp decline in youth football participation




The Shoreham Wading River High School quarter back Danny Hughes (12) scores a touchdown against Wyandanch (40) in their first game since their teammate Tom Cutinella died on the field the week before.)
The Shoreham Wading River High School quarter back Danny Hughes (12) scores a touchdown against Wyandanch (40) in their first game since their teammate Tom Cutinella died on the field the week before.)
Andrew Theodorakis/Getty Images

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In states like Texas where it’s religion and elsewhere around the country at schools that can afford and field a program, football is basically king when it comes to high school sports. 

It’s the game that highlights homecoming weekend, the best teams from around the country each year are featured on national television, and blue chip recruits get to make a big deal out of choosing which school they’ll attend.

Recently, participation numbers paint a very different picture about the status and future of high school football, even in states where it is a huge part of local community and culture.

While there isn’t specific data on how many high schools have ended football, a number of schools have nixed their programs because not enough kids tried out. Concerns have intensified in the last several weeks, particularly after tragedy struck in New Jersey, where the quarterback of the Warren Hills Regional High School team, Evan Murray, crumpled to the ground on the field and later died after taking a hit.

His death was ruled accidental and was attributed not to head trauma, but to a lacerated spleen that was larger than it should have been, making it more vulnerable to injury. Evan is one of three high school players to die so far this year. Last year, there were five fatalities at the high school level directly related to football.

Still, not everyone is ready to attribute the decline in participation to injury risk. Other sports like soccer and lacrosse are becoming more popular, and kids are opting for those sports instead.

What do you think is contributing to the decline in youth football participation? Are the injury risks associated with football grave enough to argue that more school should consider ending the programs? Are schools locally cutting back their programs?

Guests

Roger Blake, executive director of the California Interscholastic Federation, the state’s governing body for high school sports

Sean Gregory, senior writer at TIME Magazine covering sports