Football participation increases in MCPS, countering national trend


Graphic by Alex Silber.

By Bennett Solomon

While youth football participation has been decreasing for years and awareness of safety risks have increased, MCPS saw a change in this trend. MCPS football participation increased by 42 players this year, putting some schools like Northwood and Kennedy in a position to strengthen their football programs.

A survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations found there were just over one million participants in high school football across the country in 2016–17. That number dropped by over 20,000 in the 2017–18 school year. In the past decade, high school football participation has decreased by 6.6 percent, according to NFHS data.

Yet at Whitman, for the first time in over five years, there are more students on the varsity and junior varsity football teams than those who tried out for soccer. The football teams this year increased their combined player count from 80 to 91. Football coach Dave Fyock credits the increase to the returning players who have hyped up the football program.

“They like being apart of the team and have created a fun atmosphere that people want to be a part of,” Fyock said.

On a county level, Quince Orchard football coach Sean Kelley thinks officials are doing a great job keeping the game as safe as possible, and that’s one of the reasons why participation is up.

“The county does a great job making sure the coaches are up to date with all the protocols and measures to ensure all the safety to the athletes,” Kelley said. “I think the game is as safe as it has ever been and it’s the ultimate team sport which is why the kids love it.”

Northwood’s football program only had 18 players in 2016, barely enough to even field a team, but this year they have 37 players. Head coach Sean Pierce hopes more players will participate in his program and the sport because of the new, stricter safety rules.

“With all of the rule changes to the game, it allows for much more passing and kids are attracted to that,” Pierce said. “The sport has taken some hits the past 10 years but I think it’s on the uptick because these same kids are finding it a very fun sport to play.”

Even with these rule changes, the increased awareness about the risks of playing football have sparked conversation about what football participation will look like in the future. Kelley hopes that despite the national trend, local numbers will keep rising.

“There’s honestly so many talented football players in this area,” Kelley said. “Whether they’re public school or private school, I hope the local trend continues and hope the kids take advantage of it.”