Bob Huelsman
Bob Huelsman

Bob Huelsman is a former high school teacher, coach and administrator, serving for more than three decades at Covington High School, in Miami County. In his 13 years as head basketball coach at Covington, Huelsman won 228 games and five times guided the Buccaneers to the regional round of the state tournament. Currently, he serves as the associate athletic director at Newton High School, and treasurer for the Southwest District Athletic Board. A former member of the Ohio High School Athletic Association Board of Control, Huelsman’s broad background in athletic administration has won the respect of his peers statewide.


Don’t be swayed by the media profiling injuries in football as a reason for less participation…when my figures actually show the opposite!

Recently, Sonny Fulks wrote two articles (Conversations Around The Kitchen Table, and Unsolicited Opinions About Football, Then And Now) about declining participation in football.  This was his opinion, but based on what?  He didn’t say, specifically.  Perhaps he had a conversation with a coach or perhaps he wrote from other published data.  I don’t know.

Was he correct?

Sonny can be very opinionated and usually has his ducks in a row over the things he writes…if for no other reason, just plain common sense.  But pertaining to his thoughts on declining football numbers, I beg to follow plain common facts.

He alluded to the fear of injury as the reasoning, “Risk of injury…among others, concussions and the all-too-familiar story that’s been circulated in the past year over ex-athletes who now claim that head injuries from football have rendered them unable to think straight, drive a car, or just carry out normal day-to-day functions as a middle-age adult.”

In some cases Sonny may be right-on.  But in general, I think not!  Let me share these facts with you:
OHIO—Year        Sport        Teams        # of Participants
    1999                  Football       711               42,769
    2000                 Football       709              42,792
    2004                 Football        718              46,550
    2005                 Football        717               47,037
    2009                 Football        727              52,098    
    2010                 Football         737              47,955

Football remains the number one sport in regards to high school participation, not only in Ohio, but in the nation. The number of boys playing football in the United States is greater than the combined number of boys playing the second and third most popular sports (track and basketball).

1,134,377 boys played football at 15,513 high schools in 2010. Besides this, 6,000 girls played football according to the National Federation of High Schools.  Football is the only sport with 1 million boys participating, and it’s been like this for over a decade.

Participation in high school athletics continues to increase each and every year. Given the financial challenges facing many school districts, this says a lot about the benefits of education-based athletics, as 55% of students enrolled in high schools participate.

Participation levels are as follows:
BOYS—Football      1,134,377          GIRLS—Track & Field           457,732
                Track            579,302                              Basketball         444,809
                Basketball   545,302                             Volleyball            404,243            
                Baseball       473,184                              Fast Pitch          368,921
                Soccer          398,351                              Soccer              344,534
               Wrestling      273,732                        Cross Country        198,199        
         Cross Country   246,948                           Tennis                   177,593
               Tennis           161,367                           Swim & Dive        158,878
               Golf               156,866                              Golf                     69,223

Injuries are always present when it comes to athletics.  It’s no big surprise.  They’re part of life.

I believe what worries parents most are severe/catastrophic injuries.  Football seems like the most violent of all the sports, so let’s take a look at some facts.

Reports show there are approximately 4,200,000 participants at all levels of football with 1,100,000 high school players, 100,000 post high school players, and about 3,000,000 youth football players in the United States.

There were four fatalities directly related to football in 2011—two in high school football, one in college, and one in sandlot football.  In regards to high school football, the percentage of fatalities to participation levels was 0.000001818 or .00018%.

Over the years, there have been numerous rules put in place to reduce injuries, education of proper coaching techniques, and better equipment design.
1931-1965               348                            54                     72
1966-1975               164                            19                       3
1976-1985                 68                             6                       0
1986-1995                 38                             3                       0
1996-2005                 43                            4                       2
2006-2011                 17                             3                       1

The Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) carries catastrophic insurance on all Ohio school athletes. This is an insurance that will kick in when the bills run higher than $25,000.

In 2011, there was only 1 claim—basketball.  In 2010 there were 6 claims—3 football, 1 basketball, 1 ice hockey, and 1 in cross country.  In 2009 there were 4 claims—2 football, 1 ice hockey, 1 baseball.

Do I believe kids quit football because they are afraid and/or afraid of injury?  Yes!  Do I think they quit or don’t play because mom or dad doesn’t want them to play?  Yes!!

But they stop playing football for many reasons—too hot, too much work, have a job, don’t like the coach, going to concentrate on another sport, going to study harder, playing time, team isn’t any good, girl friend problems, etc.  I have heard the reasons many times, and not just for football.

Football is the most popular sport in high school for many reasons.  As a boy going through high school, I don’t believe many sit home and decide I am not playing football because I might get a concussion.  And then mull around what their life might be like when they are 45 years old.

What boy wouldn’t want to run out on the field under “Friday Night Lights”?  Not all do, but many wish they could.  Even boys that attend a school that doesn’t have football wish they could have experienced this sport. Quit?  Yes, some will, but others will take their place.