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After it All: Youth leaving sports

Skyridge's Josh Anderegg makes a circus catch at the goal line behind Skyline defender Mosese Tauteoli as they play in 5A high school football first round action Lehi in on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. Skyridge won 55-0. Scott G Winterton/Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — It hasn’t happened for thirty years, but now, high schools across the United States have reported a decline in the number of students playing sports.

The National Federation of State High School Associations says more than 43,000 fewer kids participating in sports this year, compared to last.

“That doesn’t surprise me. Doesn’t surprise me at all. Because sports aren’t fun anymore!” says Dave Noriega one of the hosts of KSL Newsradio’s Dave and Dujanovic program.

“I love sports! But playing sports is your life now,” he continued.

If you want to play sports, it has to consume every waking moment, every conversation, every spare disposable income and every second of your life. That’s how it feels right now!”

Billion dollar industry

Sports have become a multi-billion dollar industry. One research organization, Wintergreen Research, in an exclusive report for TIME Magazine, reported that the U.S. youth-sports economy is now a $15.3 billion market.  Noriega says that’s put the pressure on students that want to play and succeed, not to mention parents. The same research agency says parents can spend at least 10% of their income on youth sports fees, equipment and travel.

The pressure of making it into the big leagues or getting college scholarships pressures kids into feeling that they need a hitting coach or a pitching coach or a personal trainer. All that pressure, Noriega says makes kids feel like they have to give up their summers and their weekends to get enough practice.

Safety concerns

Another thing that might have led to this decline in sports could be safety concerns.

Debbie Dujanovic says her daughter Liz received a concussion when she was hit in the head by a softball during a  tournament.

“She was out of the game for about three weeks and completely frustrated,” Dujanovic said.

“And this was through no fault of her own. Some girl just overthrew to the first baseman and beaned [her daughter] in the back of the head.” Dujanovic says the ball hit her daughter so hard that, “it bounced off the back of her head, went all the way out, catapulted over the right fielder’s head, and she was the one who paid the consequences.”

Is the decline noticeable?

The National Federation of State High School Associations says that in the 2018-19 school year a total of 7,937,491 students participated in high school sports. A decline of 43,000 might not look like much, but is it the tip of the iceberg?

Dave and Dujanovic spoke to John Oglesby, the Assistant Director of the Utah High School Activities Association about this topic, and asked how Utah compares to the national move away from sports in a special General Conference edition of “After it All.”

You can hear the rest of their conversation in the podcast below.