By Evan Ream
* Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series examining the effect of concussions on participation in high school football, specifically in Davis and especially now that the long-term effects are well-known. Today, we report the data on DHS’ declining football participation and draw some possible conclusions.
There is a significant downward trend over the past 10 years in the percentage number of athletes playing on the Davis High School junior varsity and varsity football teams relative to the total enrollment of eligible players.
According to enrollment data received from Bill Storm, the instructional technology coordinator for the Davis Joint Unified School District, and data gathered from past DHS yearbooks, The Enterprise has determined that this information offers important insights into Davis’ current and future sporting culture.
As seen in the accompanying graph, the percentage of prep football participation from the beginning of The Enterprise’s data collection started at 3.34 percent of eligible Davis students in 2004, peaked the next year at 3.73 percent, bottomed out at 2.19 percent in 2010, and ended at 2.95 percent this past year.
Participation has been under 3 percent for the past five years.
As football is one of the few high school sports that doesn’t have a roster limit, the data show there is less interest in the sport than there has been in past years.
This decline is consistent with national levels of participation, as the National Federation of State High School Associations has reported a decrease in participation in football for each of the past four years despite an increase in overall levels of high school sports participation for 24 years in a row.
“Davis Senior High School has the most sports possible in the Sac-Joaquin Section,” DHS athletic director Dennis Foster said in an email responding to a question about the declining participation. “We also have a very competitive music and theater program. Our students have so many choices with extracurricular activities that it is tough to always keep (football) numbers at levels where we are completely satisfied.”
When asked if the decline could be due to the data published in recent years regarding concussions in football, Foster responded, “I think so, but I couldn’t speak to the level of effect on the numbers (of participants). Here at Davis we have been on the front line of concussion management for high school athletes.”
For the past two seasons, Blue Devils athletes in all sports have been required to do baseline concussion screening before becoming eligible to play.
Of course, there’s no way to pinpoint the exact cause of the decrease in participation in football in Davis, and at a national level, only conjectures can be made based on the existing data and factors.
For example, Foster pointed to the turnover in football coaches at DHS — six different head coaches in the past 10 years — as a possible reason for the decline in player participation.
Other possible factors include general lack of interest in football, the season overlap of soccer — Davis’ most popular sport — and football, and general health worries (not just concussions) that parents and players may have.
If the trend toward lower football participation continues, the Blue Devil football program as it is now constructed could be threatened. Though at this point they are both just temporary situations, in 2013 the DHS freshman team was disbanded and the players were added to the JV squad, and the Davis Junior Blue Devil program fielded just four teams in 2013 after having enough players for eight squads in 2012.
— Evan Ream is a freelance journalist based in Davis. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanReam. Karen Thome, an economist at UC Davis, and Steve Legé contributed to this report.