By Bob Gardner, NFHS Executive Director and Kevin Charles, NFHS President
It is proving to be a banner year for girls sports in the United States. In June, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Title IX – the landmark ruling that paved the way for girls to participate in organized sports competition. About a month later, the U.S. women’s soccer team won its third consecutive Olympic gold medal by defeating Japan at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. And in late August, the NFHS released its annual High School Athletics Participation Survey, which set another all-time record thanks to a sizeable increase in girls participation.
As our article on page 16 indicates, an additional 33,984 girls participated in high school sports last year to push the all-time record total to 3,207,533. This rise in girls participation offset a small decline in boys sports to push the overall total to 7,692,520 – the 23rd consecutive year that participation in high school sports has increased.
Appropriately perhaps, given the success of the U.S. team in London, soccer registered the most additional participants among girls sports from the previous year (9,419). This jump moved soccer past fast-pitch softball and into the No. 4 spot in girls participants. Soccer now trails only track and field, basketball and volleyball.
Among those participants on high school soccer teams during the past 10-15 years were most of the players on the gold-medal Olympic team. Lauren Cheney played four years at Indianapolis (Indiana) Ben Davis High School and scored 118 career goals. Abby Wambach scored 142 goals at Our Lady of Mercy High School in New York. Hope Solo was a two-time Parade All-American at Richland (Washington) High School. Alex Morgan was a three-time all-league player at Diamond Bar High School in California. Carli Lloyd was High School Girls Player of the Year twice at Deltran (New Jersey) High School. Tobin Heath was three-time Parade All-American at Ridge High School in New Jersey and led her team to a state title. Amy Rodriguez was a two-time all-California Interscholastic Federation pick while playing at Santa Margarita Catholic High School in California.
While these athletes also played on a variety of out-of-school teams through U.S. Soccer, their fundamental and core training began every year with their high school teams. This dual-team concept has worked to the tune of great high school success and benefits of education-based athletics, and, at the other end, three consecutive gold medals – the best of both worlds.
As we reported in this column in the April 2012 issue, even with the success of this formula on the girls side, U.S. Soccer has pulled the plug on this nation’s top male high school players. With the movement to a 10-month season with its U.S. Soccer Development Academy, the approximately 4,000 boys who compete in the 78-team Development Academy no longer can play soccer on their high school teams. These individuals are forced to choose between one or the other. Many state associations and individual schools and coaches have voiced displeasure over this decision by U.S. Soccer.
Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon, lost five players. Coach Chris Thurley said, “It’s not gone over well.” Mike Thoin, soccer coach at St. Joseph’s in Buffalo, New York, said, “... it’s putting kids in a bad position. There are certain things they will miss out on at the high school level. They will miss participating in a sport they love with their schoolmates.” Todd Marquardt of Kenmore West High School in Buffalo said, “They’re (U.S. Soccer) locking these kids into a commitment and saying they can’t wear their high school jersey across their chest. Playing for your high school team is priceless.”
As we stated in the April article, the NFHS and its member state associations are tremendously disappointed in this decision by U.S. Soccer. And, now that the high school soccer season has started throughout the country, it is apparent that many others at the local school level are as well.
The co-existence of the high school and club programs seems to be working fairly successfully on the girls side. Members of the U.S. women’s team were able to compete with their high school teammates and retain all the benefits of education-based athletics. After their high school seasons, these players turned their attention to the national team. Obviously, participation in high school-based programs served as a great launching pad to their careers. Very simply, why should it be any different for the 4,000 boys who are now locked out of their high school teams?