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Student-athlete participation increased for third straight year in Kentucky with football (boys) and volleyball (girls) topping the list

Football again had more athletes participating than any sport in Kentucky during the 2019-20 high school sports year.  (Advocate-Messenger Photo)

By JOE ANGOLIA, KHSAA

Student-athlete participation increased for the third-straight year in Kentucky High School Athletic Association sports and sport-activities to reach record levels in 2019-20.

A total of 107,166 rostered participants competed across the KHSAA’s 13 sports and six sport-activities according to information submitted by the membership, surpassing last year’s then-record total of 106,931. Football was one of 12 offerings to show an increase from the previous year, breaking a trend of declining participation for the last three years by adding 202 new student-athletes [freshmen, JV, varsity] during the 2019-20 season to remain the state’s most popular sport with 13,277 rostered participants.

“The continued rise in student-athlete participation the last three years emphasizes the importance of school-based athletics in the fabric of the educational experience for these young adults,” said KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett.

“The importance of these coach-to-student and student-to-student relationships is only amplified in these uncertain times, as we strive to return to some form of normalcy in our lives. Even with the likely understating of spring sports numbers due to Covid-19 and the usual rise in roster counts as those seasons go along, these numbers show how important it is that we offer an opportunity for our schools to create participation opportunities.”

Participant counts are cumulative among all KHSAA rosters and continue an upward trend in participation across the board according to the data submitted to the National Federation of State High Schools (NFHS) in Indianapolis. Overall participation is up 7,523 from where it was seven years ago (an increase of 7.2 percent since the 2012-13 season) with 31.5 percent of student-athletes competing in multiple sports.

Several KHSAA offerings enjoyed participation growth in 2019-20, led by Volleyball (331), Wrestling (265), and Soccer (229). The majority of spring sports, meanwhile, showed reduced participation across the board as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the cancellation of the 2020 season eliminated the opportunity for teams to finalize their rosters with additions through the course of the year.

Participation numbers have been impacted over the last nine years by the addition and growth of six sport-activities (Archery, Bass Fishing, Bowling, Competitive Cheer, Dance and Esports) and the sport of Field Hockey. The sport-activities of Archery (5,253) and Competitive Cheer (5,131) both topped 5,000 participants during the 2019-20 season.

KHSAA participation in 2019-20 was also boosted by the continued growth of the Unified and Adapted Track & Field and Bowling programs, which accounted for 474 participants last season. Participation numbers submitted to the NFHS do not yet include esports, which was sanctioned for the first time in 2018-19 and featured 521 student-athletes from 46 member schools participating in Rocket League or League of Legends during the 2019 fall season.

Football retained its spot as the state’s most popular sport in terms of participation with 13,277 student-athletes across all levels (121 females) competing for 224 schools. Soccer was the second-most popular sport in Kentucky last year with 12,679 participants, followed by Basketball (12,325) and Track & Field (11,348).

On the girls’ side, Volleyball was the most popular sport with 6,593 participants, followed by Soccer (5,949), Softball (5,527), Basketball (5,380), Track & Field (5,141) and Competitive Cheer (4,968). Overall female participation reached a high of 49,458 rostered participants in 2019-20, with 11,207 multi-sport student-athletes (29.3 percent of all female participants).

Among boys’ sports, Baseball was second in the state behind Football with 7,077 participants. Basketball ranked third overall at 6,945 student-athletes, followed by Soccer (6,730), Track & Field (6,873) and Cross Country (3,138). Overall male participation totaled 57,708 rostered participants, with 14,468 multi-sport student-athletes (33.5 percent of all male participants).

Basketball ranked as the most-sponsored sport across Kentucky with 275 schools offering a team. Volleyball had the second-highest number of teams with 266, followed by Baseball (259), Softball (259), Cross Country (258), and Track & Field (257).

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