NFHS & NCHSAA Participation Data Shows Declines Over Pandemic Years

This week, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) released the first National Participation Survey in three years. The survey was suspended for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic on high school athletic and activities programs across the country. 

The data released saw a 4% drop in participation nationally from the 2018-19 survey to the data in the 2021-2022 survey. North Carolina specifically experienced a 9.1% decline in participation during that period, with a significant decline of 12.5% in women’s sports. 

“As we look at the participation numbers from last year, it is obvious to us that we are still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker. “We believe that last year’s data indicates we may be encountering some lingering effects of the COVID-19 shortened season. Perhaps shorter seasons coupled with overlapping seasons may have contributed to a sharper decline in participation for North Carolina than we have seen in other states.”

While the NFHS Survey data did not include information from the 2019-20 or 2020-21 academic years, the NCHSAA did maintain participation during those years. The NCHSAA annually gathers participation data from member schools, submitted by the athletic director at each school during the fall, winter, and spring seasons. 

The NCHSAA data for the two COVID-impacted years shows a significant adjustment in student participation trends. With sport seasons shortened, moved from their traditional time of the year, and in many cases, overlapping with other sports, the NCHSAA data from 2020-21 indicates many student-athletes chose to focus their participation, or not participate during the impacted season. 

Examples of this impact include a 5000 student-athlete decline in football participation with nine schools not fielding a program in the sport. The Indoor Track season being cancelled saw over 11 thousand student athletes not participate in that sport for the 2020-21 academic year. Men’s Lacrosse saw a decline of 14 programs and 34.3% less student-athletes participate while the Women’s game experienced a decline of four programs and 22% of student athletes. 

The NCHSAA data for 2021-22 show a 3700-student rebound in football, a 17.3% increase from 2020-21, with 11 programs returning to the field. Lacrosse experienced a similar return with all 14 men’s programs that did not field teams in the COVID year returning to play for 2021-22. The Men’s Lacrosse total participation numbers bounced back 895 students, increasing 32.7% from the COVID-shortened year. Women’s Lacrosse saw an increase of six teams and 299 students, up 13.7%.


Commissioner Que Tucker added, “We remain encouraged that student-athletes and their communities are returning to normal and continue to expect rebounds in participation at our member schools. We continue to believe that education-based athletic programs are tremendous enrichment opportunities for young people in our state’s schools and remain committed to ensuring those opportunities remain available for all young people across our state.”

The NCHSAA will have more information on participation trends in the coming weeks through the NCHSAA Website.