WSJ: Girls are Leaving High School Basketball

Ignatius L Hoops

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Sep 9, 2015
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So says the National Federation of State High School Associations data:

Two decades ago, girls’ basketball was the queen of high school sports. Nearly half a million players crowded gyms across the country, and schools packed rosters of varsities, joint ventures and freshmen.

But in the last school year, basketball jumped to the fourth most popular girls’ sport, according to data released this month by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Girls’ basketball has lost 19% of its players since 2002, while the top girls’ sports, track and field, have increased by 10% with volleyball (+15%) and soccer (+27%) up.

Although boys and girls’ high school sports participation has declined 4% overall since 2019, in the first post-pandemic national survey, girls’ basketball declined by 7%.

The decline of girls’ basketball is even more apparent given the rise in popularity of the women’s sport: TV ratings for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament and the WNBA are on the rise.

Several forces are driving the decline. More athletes stick to one sport almost year round. Schools have included other sports for girls, which have lured athletes away from basketball. Coaches say that some girls find it too difficult, or even “girly,” to play basketball.

“It’s sad,” said Erica Daly, first-year head coach at Kimball High School in Dallas, which was a regional force when she played there in the early 2000s. “So I came back, to try to make a difference and encourage kids to play.”

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Daly said only one girl from last year’s Kimball team had signed up to play for the season starting in October. The coach persuaded two other men to return, then recruited two dozen more men with T-shirts and promised that she would teach them the game. Most players have never played basketball before.

In Texas, powerhouse girls’ basketball teams are attracting as many players as ever, some through open enrollment policies, but other programs with low rosters as lame. Girls’ basketball participation in the state has dropped by 38% in 20 years – despite an increase in the state’s overall population.

“A lot of athletes are gaining expertise too soon,” said Brooke Brittain, girls’ basketball coach and co-athletic coordinator at Mansfield High in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “If Their Parents Are Paying Them Thousands Of Dollars To Play” [club] Volleyball, they don’t want to miss their practice to play a basketball game.”

The Briton, who loves the sport so much that he packed a basketball on his military deployment to Iraq, says the incoming roster of new players is the thinnest he has had in 16 years of coaching.

Even Iowa, where girls have played high school basketball for more than a century before the crowd, has half as many players as they did in the late 1990s.

The quality of top players remains high, said Joseph Siegrist, former coach of the West Des Moines (Iowa) Valley High girls basketball team, pointing to home stars such as University of Iowa All-American Caitlin Clark. But many girls are choosing sports that require less specialized skill and diligence than basketball, he said.

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark was a top player at Dowling Catholic High School in Iowa.​

Photo: Robert Godin / USA Today Sports

“I think club volleyball and softball and soccer are doing fine in some cases because they don’t require the physical work on your body that probably basketball does,” Siegrist said.

In fact, Natalia Bryant, the eldest child of the late Kobe Bryant and Vanessa Bryant, told Teen Vogue last year that she preferred volleyball over basketball because she hates running.

In Nebraska, a major club volleyball tournament and high school district basketball playoffs overlapped on Presidents Day weekend. Creighton Varsity Volleyball Coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth to tweet“VB is negatively impacting BB participation. I am grateful for the depth of VB talent in this state, but not for Bibi’s passing.”

Booth said in an interview that club tournaments like this have become so important that some athletes won’t actually go out for high school basketball, so that their club volleyball coaches or teammates aren’t dismayed by potential absences. She said she wanted to encourage multisport participation. Girls’ basketball participation in Nebraska has fallen 28% since 2002.

In a statement, officials from the Nebraska School Activity Association said only one school classification out of six competes on President’s Day, and the basketball schedule was approved by the NSAA’s membership.

The NSA stated that the number of girls’ basketball teams in Nebraska has declined 12% over two decades, as a result of school closures, consolidation and cooperative sponsorship, where two or more existing school athletes are pooled to form a team. do, the NSA said.

Meanwhile, the number of girls playing high school sports overall in Nebraska has risen nearly 11 percent over the past decade, NSA officials said. This increase was due to an increase in the number of girls competing in bowling and wrestling, both of which take place in the winter – the same season as basketball.

Nationwide, boys’ basketball participation has also declined, although less rapidly: about 4% over two decades. In all high school sports over the past three years, the pandemic disrupted sports and prompted distance learning, with boys’ participation falling 3.5% while girls’ 4.7%.

A photo of the New Albany (Ind.) High Girls Basketball 2021-22 team​

Photo: Red Bolt Design

New Albany (Ind.) High head coach Shelby Glebe said the program halted junior-varsity games around midseason last year because of dwindling numbers. It was a dramatic move for a school with an enrollment of 1,800, and a program that won the 1999 big-school state championship.

“We have kids who have to stop because they have to take care of some stuff at home first,” Glebe said. “Some of them are like, ‘I have work, and I can’t work.'”

Glibe said that in the age of Instagram and TikTok, basketball suffers even compared to sports considered “girlier”.

“I think that’s the biggest reason girls don’t participate in basketball, and I know it’s silly: It’s not a ‘cute’ sport,” said Glibe in the skirts she wore in tennis and volleyball and running. Said referring to the spandex shorts that were worn. He said he hopes the practice of WNBA players wearing glamorous outfits to the arena will help add to the sport’s appeal to teenagers.

Dallas’s Kimball High’s Daly said she feels an urgent need to get girls back in basketball, especially since they have professionals to aspire to.

“We want to keep this going,” Daly said. “We don’t want this to go away. You need a pipeline.”


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Jan 16, 2020
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I am sorry that participation in girls basketball has declined. However, I think that it is good that there are more girls sports so that each individual can find a sport that fits her interest and physical skills. There are some quotes in the articles that are off-base: volleyball, softball, and soccer "don’t require the physical work on your body that probably basketball does.” I am astounded by how volleyball players sky and spike or block the ball and in a fraction of second are on the floor digging the ball and then back up. It hurts just watching. Secondly, the idea that girls don't participate in basketball because "it's not a 'cute' sport" and they don't wear "glamorous outfits" is ridiculous. Ultimately, a 'good' athlete chooses a sport because it fits their size, physical skills, disposition, social aspects, and availability of opportunities. I do agree that as the quality of girls and boys sports improves there is more of a need to specialize in one sport to achieve the upper levels of success. Also, there are a lot things outside of sports today that demand a student's attention and force a kid to choose one sport.

60's Guy

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Jul 29, 2010
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Talk about throwing darts....lots of speculation. Let me add some more reasons I've heard.
"Kids today don't want to work" Basketball takes hard work to get better.

Parents have made coaching no fun. That leaves people coaching who are doing it for the money who don't care and aren't very good at it. Result: Nobody wants to play because it's no fun.

Volleyball and specialization is valid....volleyball club team coaches win the commitment of the girls as they get burned out trying to do both in the winter.

Kids working jobs has been around for a 100 years but mindsets are changing and the economy is not helping money crunched situations.

Social media and mob mentality is real. You are a kid and it ain't cool to play at your gonna fight that as a high school kid? Easier not to play.

About a million reasons with each situation different but I'll bet social media is influencing things to greater degree the last couple years.. Like Walleye said...there have never been more distractions than there are now.

Comes down to coaching....if you win and have are going to play.

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