Union Democrat staff

Participation in high school football dropped sharply for the second straight year while the total number of kids taking part in preparatory sports rose to an all-time high, according to the 2017 California Interscholastic Federation Sports Participation Survey released Tuesday.

Eleven-man football is still by far the most popular boys’ sport in the state but dropped over three percent to 97,079 total participants, down from 100,205 in 2016 when they also dropped three percent. There were 103,725 participants in 2015.

Overall, 6,646 boys have decided to play other sports than football over the past two years.

A total of 454,005 boys take part in prep sports, 258 more than last year.

“Winning and losing in education-based athletics cannot, and must not, be the defining moment for those participating in CIF sports,” stated CIF Executive Director Roger L. Blake in a press release. “With positive adult leadership on the fields and in the gymnasiums, this trend of increasing participating will continue as our students gain the valuable life-long lessons that can only be learned through participation in education-based athletics.”

Track and field, soccer and basketball, the second, third and fourth most popular boys’ sports, all gained athletes, and have done so for the past few years. The three sports are close in numbers with baseball just behind, having suffered a slight drop.

Cross country made the biggest leap by jumping over seven percent, adding 2,198 runners to the fold. Wrestling was at the opposite spectrum suffering losses for the sixth straight year, and was down close to seven percent from last year.

The three most popular sports for girls, soccer, track and field and volleyball, respectively, all gained athletes with volleyball enjoying a 2 ½ percent rise.

Overall, 5,843 more girls decided to play sports last year raising the total number to 331,352.

A total of 785,357 student-athletes are competing in education-based athletic programs.

The CIF’s 1,587-member schools participated in the survey as part of the National Federation of State High School Associations nationwide survey that measures the number of students competing in sports in the country.