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Football participation declines in S.D. and U.S. as brain injury research expands

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Tackle football remains one of the most popular sports in America, but participation in high school football in South Dakota and across the United States is falling steadily as the risk of brain injuries from the sport becomes clearer.

Participation in 11-player boys football in South Dakota fell by 5.2% over the past three years, and dropped by 16.6% over the past decade, according to data from the National Federation of State High School Associations, which has done annual participation surveys for more than 25 years.

Participation in nine-player football, played in smaller, mostly rural districts, fell by 3.7% across the nation over the past 10 years, according to the survey.

The decreases came as student enrollment in grades nine through 12 in South Dakota — the grades that play high school football — was essentially flat during that 10-year time frame at about 43,000 students.

Nationally, total participation in athletics fell across all sports for the first time in nearly 30 years; participation in boys 11-player high school football — the sport with the highest participation among all sports — fell by 5.2% last year to about 1.1 million players.

Recent studies have shown that from 5% to 10% of youth football players will suffer a concussion — defined as a “mild traumatic brain injury” — at some point during a full season. With about 1 million athletes playing high school football in the U.S. annually, that means between 50,000 and 100,000 teens will suffer a concussion each year, not including those at the youth and junior high levels.

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