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NFL, partner aim to reverse HS football player decline – but numbers are up in Bend

(Update: Adding video, Bend coaches' comments)

NFL and National Federation of State High School Associations join forces

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The National Federation of State High School Associations and the National Football League recently entered into a new partnership that they hope will grow support and understanding for high school football.

The NFHS wants to address a steady decline in high school football participation over the last decade. However, two coaches in Bend said Wednesday they've seen a different trend at their schools, compared to what's happening nationwide.

The federation said that in the 2008-09 season, more than 1.1 million athletes competed in 11-player football, the highest number ever recorded.

However, that number has decreased every year since, except for the 2013-14 season.

Dr. Karissa Niehoff, the NFHS executive director, told NewsChannel 21 that even though more high school football programs have been created across the nation, there are now 30,000 fewer participants.

Niehoff said that might be happening for a few reasons.

"Is there a perceived fear of risk?" she said. "What are those actual numbers, in terms of injury data we can share to the best of our ability? Do student athletes choose not to participate for reasons where it might have been a bad experience, not just for risk and injury, but maybe the emotional experience wasn't good?"

However, she said she expects the NFL's $150,000 grant will allow coaches, players and parents to get a fresh perspective and learn more about football at the high school level.

In fact, according to Niehoff, NewsChannel 21 was the first in the nation to learn about the use of UpMetrics as part of the partnership.

UpMetrics is a survey instrument that can provide educational resources and messaging about the benefits of high school football. Niehoff said the NFHS will try to make the tool accessible to all schools across the country.

"We can better understand some of those dynamics and do a good job as a national organization to advocate for the sport and provide education where it's needed," Niehoff said.

As of now, it's unclear how the coronavirus and delayed seasons will impact player participation.

Oregon is one of six states nationwide that has decided to postpone fall sports until 2021. That means come March of next year, it will have been exactly a year and 4 months since a Central Oregon football team last took the field.

Contrary to the nationwide trend, some Central Oregon schools have noticed an increase in participation this season.

Mountain View High School went from 80 players just a year ago to 104 in the program. Summit High had an even bigger jump, going from 87 players to 115.

"COVID's kind of been a benefit to us, because kids all want to be out participating in something," said Corben Hyatt, Summit's head football coach. "They miss their friends and that interaction with coaches and teammates and stuff like that. But I also think we've done a really good job here in Central Oregon of promoting the sport."

Mountain View Head Football Coach Brian Crum said the sport is safer than ever.

"I have a son who's going to be a freshman at Mountain View, and he's playing tackle football," Crum said. "If I didn't think it was safe, I certainly would not let him do it."

Only time will tell if the NFHS and NFL scored with this six-figure investment.

As of now, the partnership is only in place for a year, but Niehoff and the NFHS hope it will turn into a long-term effort.

Article Topic Follows: Sports

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Max Goldwasser

Max Goldwasser is a reporter and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Max here.


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