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Numbers: Football in America – Friday Night Lights and High School Teams

We’re in the last month of the fall football season for most high schools in the U.S. Student teams are wrapping up their regular seasons and focusing on state play-off games. Collegiate teams have a few more weeks left in their regular season, after which some teams will head into the play-offs with the potential to compete in one of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) games. This leaves the pros in the National Football League (NFL) to carry the ball and follow a similar path until Super Bowl Sunday, February 7, 2016.

Parrish Allen – Senior, Linebacker for Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School Bruins, Orangeburg, SC

Parrish Allen – Senior, Linebacker for
Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School Bruins, Orangeburg, SC

My last post on this topic, Numbers: Football in America – Youth Sports Participation Rates, focused on the activities of children and youth in America’s #1 team sport. This post kicks it up a notch. We will take a look at some football stats for the high school level.

Data provided from the National Federation of State High School Associations and the NFL show [Refs 1&2]:

  • 1,088,158 student athletes played on these teams
  • 1,086,627 high school boys and 1,531 girls make up the gender difference for the above
  • 310,465 high school seniors are included in the above
  • 5% of high school player were recruited by NCAA schools
  • 14,048 U.S. high schools fielded teams to play 11-man per side American tackle football

Additional stats provided by Terrence Jeffrey of CNS News show that Texas led the nation with 165,359 student athletes playing football at 1,061 high schools—for an average of 156 football players per school. California and Arizona tied for second place. In California, 102,505 student athletes played football at 1,045 schools for an average of 98.09 football players per high school. For Arizona, 18,803 student athletes played at 192 high schools for an average of 97.9 per high school.

Football remained the top sport among high school athletes in the 2012-2013 school year, according to the federation, even though the number of students playing declined for the fourth straight year.

Kobe Blackwell – Freshman Team Member at Mountain Point High School, Phoenix, Arizona

Kobe Blackwell – Sophomore and Junior Varsity Team Member for Mountain Point High School’s Pride, Phoenix, Arizona

A number of benefits have been attributed to sports and are well documented in numerous publications and studies. Improved academic achievement, including grades and standardized test scores, is just one of those benefits cited by the Aspen Project. [Ref 2]

Another positive attribute includes the impact of sports on cognitive skills, attitudes and academic behavior, including enhanced concentration, attention, and improved classroom behavior.  High school athletes are more likely than non-athletes to attend college and complete degree programs. (US Dept. of Education, 2005) The benefits extend to the workplace. A survey of 400 female corporate executives found 94% played a sport and that 61% say that it contributed to their career success (EY Women Athletes Business Network/espnW, 2014).

Parents also appreciate these benefits. When researchers from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation (RWJF), Harvard University, and National Public Radio (NPR) asked about the positive effects playing sports has had for their children, parents and guardians pointed to improved physical health (88%), giving the child something more positive and productive to do (83%), teaching discipline or dedication (81%),  teaching how to get along with others (78%), and reinforcing positive mental health (73%), positive social life (65%), skills to help in future schooling (56%), and skills to help in a future career (55%). [Ref 3]

While most of us appreciate a good high school football game on Friday night, one of today’s biggest hurdles to increasing the number of students playing the game is the risk of injury. That risk is very real. For this year’s football season, seven players have died from game-related injuries. CNN reports that an average of 12 deaths are reported each year, and the leading cause of death is cardiac arrest although head and spinal injuries contribute to fatalities on the field. [Ref 4]

Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School middle linebacker and team captain, Parrish Allen, knows what injury on the playing field looks and feels like. Five games into last year’s football season, he suffered a broken bone during the second play of the first quarter. The blow to his left leg resulted in a fracture to the tibia and the fibula. He was rushed to the local emergency room, and transported to Palmetto Richland Hospital the next morning for surgery. A rod was placed in his left leg, and the then junior player was placed on the injured list. As his wounds healed, he began a grueling physical therapy program with the team’s trainer.

Parrish has seen a lot more field play this 2015-2016 season, however, it has not been without a few bumps and bruises to his left leg. A tackle during Game 9 left him needing to wear a boot on his leg for one week. He has been cleared to practice and anticipates joining his team members for the first round of play-off games on Friday, November 13, 2015 at Airport High School in Columbia, SC. Go Bruins~

Dallas Chewning – Senior, Defensive Back, Millennial High School Tigers, Goodyear, AZ

Dallas Chewning – Senior, Defensive Back and Wide Receiver, Millennial High School Tigers, Goodyear, AZ

The risk of injury at the high school level is a numbers game. According to CNN and CNS, an NCCSIR survey showed that there are about 1.1 million high school football players in the nation, compared with about 100,000 in the NFL, college, junior college, Arena Football and the semi-professional level. Stated another way, high school players out-number the combination of college, pro and semi-pro players 10 to 1, therefore more players in the latter group result in more expected injuries.

In addition to the above, high school football players suffer three times as many catastrophic injuries — deaths, permanent disability, neck fractures and head injuries — as college players, according to a 2007 study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. This is problematic and requires more research and evaluation if the numbers for injuries and deaths are going to be reduced.

“Football, has been under the microscope over the last decade, and organizations at all levels of play, including high schools, have been taking aggressive steps to try and reduce injury over time.” [Ref 4] Included in these changes are the addition of wearable tech, new training equipment, possible changes in the way the game is played, and the addition of more full-time athletic trainers at practice and during games at the high school level. The proposed solutions will help players at all levels.

For my next post on this topic, we’ll kick it up another level and take a look at America’s favorite sport at the college level. Until then, somewhere across this country, it’s Football Night in America!

Last but not least, many thanks to my friends and family members who willingly and unwillingly provided their individual team member photos for this post (and many thanks to the moms behind these photos). Best wishes to Dallas, Kobe, and Parrish in their academic studies and any future endeavors to continue playing football as a sport and/or a professional.


  1. Football Is Top Sport in U.S.: 1,088,158 High School Players, by Terence P. Jeffrey for CNS News, February 2, 2014, http://cnsnews.com/news/article/terence-p-jeffrey/football-top-sport-us-1088158-high-school-players
  2. National Football League, nfl.com
  3. Facts: Sports Activity and Kids, http://www.aspenprojectplay.org/the-facts
  4. High school football player Andre Smith dies in Illinois, by Dana Ford and Ray Sanchez of CNN, October 26, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/25/us/illinois-high-school-football-player-death/

About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.

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