State football participation drops for 2nd straight year

Canyon High’s Joey Lopez (25) attempts to tackle Valencia’s Brendan Adam (12) during a football game at Canyon last season. Katharine Lotze/Signal
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For the second straight year, the number of athletes participating in 11-man football in California dropped by more than 3,000 in 2016, according to a census published by the CIF on Tuesday.

Overall, the CIF saw sports participation climb to an all-time high for a fifth consecutive year, with close to 800,000 high schoolers taking part in education-based athletic programs.

Lacrosse saw the largest percentage increase from 2015, a combined 7.4 percent in boys and girls (1,245 more participants).

Football remained the most popular boys sport, still with 97,079 players despite losing 3,126 from the 2015 season.

The sport dropped from 103,725 athletes in 2014 to 100,205 in 2015.

In light of the state’s more than 900 football programs, it qualifies as more of a trickle than a mass exodus.

Lavelle Calvin (21) and Golden Valley football made history in 2016. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Even still, it’s a trend not necessarily mirrored by the Foothill League.

Saugus High had about 20 fewer freshmen go out for football in 2016 than it did in 2015, but only because it had a record 63 freshmen show up in 2015.

Somewhere between 40 and 50 – the number of Centurion freshmen last year and this summer, respectively – is closer to the program’s average, according to longtime coach Jason Bornn.

West Ranch coach Chris Varner said Tuesday that more players came out for football in 2016 and 2017, respectively, than in 2015.

Across the program, the Wildcats boast about 15 more players now than last season.

Part of the two-year growth, of course, could be tied to buzz surrounding Varner’s arrival after the ‘15 campaign.

Because he’s on campus (the Wildcats’ previous coach was a walk-on), Varner has the opportunity to recruit students he sees on a daily basis, he said.

Hart’s AJ Stanley (18) intercepts the pass intended for Saugus defender Daniel Gilmartin (17) during a game last season. Dan Watson/The Signal

To some extent, Golden Valley football has sold itself. In the midst of the best two-season stretch in program history, the Grizzlies’ numbers remained steady from 2015 to 2016 and rose at the freshmen and junior varsity levels from 2016 to 2017.

Golden Valley coach Dan Kelley credited the Santa Clarita Grizzlies youth program, at least in part, for the high school program’s growth.

As for Hart, the Indians have averaged roughly 50 players on varsity the past few seasons and, at the moment, only have around 38 players at that level – a fact that Hart coach Mike Herrington chalked up to a small junior class.

“Our sophomore class has good size, and our freshman class has good size,” he said.

Hart football did not see a decrease in participation from 2015 to 2016, Herrington said.

Canyon didn’t either. The Cowboys had around 40 freshmen come out for football in 2015 and about 51 last year.

That number is closer to 40 this summer, said Cowboys coach Rich Gutierrez, who added that he believes that a state or nationwide decrease in gridiron participation has multiple factors, one of which being reports on head injuries.

“There have been a lot of reports on concussions,” he said. “I just saw a recent report on (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). I think it scares parents. It’s understandable.”

As a parent of a high-school football player, Gutierrez said he empathizes, but he said the other side of the coin is that injuries can occur in any sport.

Valencia could not be reached for comment.




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