According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, more than 7.6 million high school students played sports during the 2021-2022 school year. That represents(a 4% decrease from pre-pandemic numbers – and a recent report by the Women’s Sports Federation suggests that the pandemic may have increased gender inequality in high school sports, with girls showing higher sports dropout rates in some cases.
Pandemic-related decreases in sports participation may have detracted not only from student fitness levels, but also student performance in general. Numerous studies have shown that athletics can benefit students in a myriad of ways. Students who participate in sports programs, male and female alike, tend to have higher test scores and GPAs. They are also less likely to drop out, use drugs, or become teen parents. In addition, participation in extracurricular activities including sports is associated with 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.
However, only around 35.1% of girls in public schools participated in sports in 2018, and the situation doesn’t seem to have improved much. Over 1 million more boys participated in sports than girls during the 2021-2022 season.
Basketball is the most commonly offered high school sport for girls. In 2021, out of 23,519 public high schools, 17,901 had girls’ basketball programs, while 17,028 offered girls’ outdoor track and field, and 16,532 offered volleyball. In terms of student participation, however, some sports are much more popular.
To compile a list of the 10 most popular sports for girls in high school for the 2021/2022 school year, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted and published by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Track and field is the most popular athletic program among girls in high school, with 456,697 participating in 2021. Volleyball is a close second, followed by soccer and basketball. (Compare these to the most popular sports for high school boys.)
> Participants: 96,762
> High schools offering the sport: 3,028
9. Competitive spirit (cheerleading)
> Participants: 140,552
> High schools offering the sport: 7,236 — 10th most
8. Swimming & diving
> Participants: 149,751
> High schools offering the sport: 8,079 — 9th most
> Participants: 176,185
> High schools offering the sport: 9,987 — 8th most
6. Cross country
> Participants: 191,323
> High schools offering the sport: 15,448 — 5th most
5. Softball – fast pitch
> Participants: 340,923
> High schools offering the sport: 15,454 — 4th most
> Participants: 370,466
> High schools offering the sport: 17,901 — the most
> Participants: 374,773
> High schools offering the sport: 12,071 — 6th most
> Participants: 454,153
> High schools offering the sport: 16,532 — 3rd most
1. Track and field – outdoor
> Participants: 456,697
> High schools offering the sport: 17,028 — 2nd most
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