- Increasing awareness of the potential dangers of football and shifting cultural influences are causing enrollment in high school football programs in some areas to decline.
- Some schools are now using eight-man football teams as opposed to the traditional 11 in an attempt to salvage declining programs, while others are forming sports co-ops to address the issue.
- Schools may need to consider adding other sports — such as soccer, cricket, flag football and ultimate Frisbee competitions — to expand their sports programs and provide broader options for participation.
Football defines the culture of many high schools across the nation. The sports aspect is not the only element. Marching bands, cheerleading, homecoming dances, and spirit days all center upon the high school teams. The teams often also define the school’s brand. Logos and banners proclaim the team name and weekly games generate consistent media coverage. For some high schools, football also brings in much-needed revenue.
However, football may be fading from the high school landscape and there may be a good reason. Though safety measures have improved over the years, so has the research that shows the long-term effects of football. A recent study indicates that youth football increases odds of brain problems in adulthood. Though the study applies to children 12 and under, the pressure of high school football demands that students begin the sport when they are young if they are to succeed in high school sports. The number of high school football-associated deaths are also giving parents, players and school districts pause.
School districts will need to address these issues in the coming years. However, in the meantime, looking to other competitive options may be worth considering. Soccer has a global appeal, as it is played in more countries.
The notion of school spirit and branding can also be expanded beyond the realm of traditional sports. Some schools are becoming involved in esports, which can help elevate the video-gamers to star status. It may also be worth considering what would happen if schools put the same time and attention into developing academic or fine arts competitions as well as athletic ones. A whole new breed of school heroes may emerge.