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competition3I spent some time searching online to see if there has been a decline of students participating in high school sports. I found several articles from 2019 pointing to declines of 43,000+ nationwide; football and basketball (boys) with the largest declines. Even when refining the search to Michigan schools only, I found nothing. Yet in Genesee County where I’ve lived my whole life, there has been a noticeable decline in participation rates in high school softball. Why? And is this a local or national trend?

Another trend I’ve noticed is the growing gap in talent between travel and their peers who only play school ball.

Searching for any information on declines in softball participation in Michigan or the county turns up nothing. The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) has nothing on their web site regarding the matter. The local AM radio stations runs daily advertisements promoting the participation in high school sports – along with appeals to young adults to become officials (referees, umpires, etc.). Many friends of mine have also noticed the dwindling number of girls going out for softball each year in their communities.

Softball, soccer, golf, track, lacrosse, and tennis are spring sports for girls in Michigan. Census data estimates a 5% drop in the population of Genesee County since 2010. Back then when my daughters played high school softball, the school had 3 teams – freshman, junior varsity, and varsity. This year they will only have JV and varsity teams. The school was the last in the conference to have 3 teams. Others have only varsity teams today.

The questions that come to mind are:

  • Are the other spring sports for girls drawing players away from softball?
  • Are the other spring sports for girls in a decline too?
  • Is there an overall drop in participation of girls sports or only in softball?
  • Is the drop in the county’s population to blame?

I have speculated that the multi-sport athletes – highly promoted by the MHSAA - have had to choose between sports in the spring. For example, had soccer been a fall sport in Michigan – as it is in college – both of my daughters would have likely played. When I coached travel softball I always had trouble with the short fall schedule, because many of my players – especially pitchers – played high school volleyball. If softball were moved to the fall, volleyball would suffer, since most of the pitchers I coached went on to play softball in college – not volleyball. Players would choose the sport they were being recruited to play in college.

Another trend I’ve noticed is the growing gap in talent between travel and their peers who only play school ball, which is discussed in the Softball Journey Book. Is this gap causing girls who know they won’t be starters to give up playing entirely? I’ve also wondered if the rising cost to play travel softball has made it unaffordable for families. Girls who can’t play travel softball fall behind in skills. Could this cause them to give up the game? Regardless of the reasons, there’s definitely been a drop in participation in high school softball here.

How about where you’re from? Are you seeing similar trends? Are you seeing it in other girls’ sports? It’s certainly not being reported in the national news. And it’s definitely not being reported in Michigan. Please share your thoughts on our Facebook post of this article.