It is estimated that approximately half of the high school students in North Carolina are girls, but historically, the number of girls involved in high school sports has been significantly lower than that of boys.
Many theories exist regarding the lower participation of girls, and the reality is that it is a multifaceted problem with numerous influencing elements. However, a significant factor is the limited number of opportunities available.
Last year marked the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which helped open the door to more opportunities in sports for girls in high school. Girls today have many more opportunities than girls saw just a couple decades ago, and that’s a good thing.
Participating in high school sports has been proven to have positive effects on all students. Not only do student athletes typically achieve higher grades, but they also have fewer disciplinary problems, attend school more regularly, and have a graduation rate of almost 100%. High school sports serve as an effective program to prevent dropouts as students must maintain their academic eligibility in order to continue participating. Additionally, there are numerous other advantages such as developing teamwork skills, interacting with a diverse group of peers, and learning how to handle both victory and defeat.
Considering the advantages, it is crucial that we continuously seek additional methods to increase the involvement of children, particularly in terms of girls’ participation.
Last year, 80,881 girls in North Carolina high schools participated in sports, which is a 4.3% increase from the previous year. In comparison, there were 103,643 boys participating in North Carolina high school sports. This data comes from the N.C. High School Athletic Association and the National Federation of State High School Associations.
North Carolina is positioned as the 13th state in the country for overall participation, slightly trailing behind Georgia. However, the state of North Carolina holds the 12th spot for the total number of girls participating.
There are encouraging developments in the current situation. Following the widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on high school sports participation, there has been a recovery in participation levels. While girls’ participation has not yet reached pre-pandemic numbers (87,541), it is showing signs of growth and potential, although it has not yet reached its all-time high of 89,826 in 2016-2017.
The number of girls participating in basketball increased in the 2022-2023 season, marking the first growth since the 2015-2016 season. Similarly, softball participation also saw an increase for the first time since 2016. While both sports have experienced a decline in participation over the years, it is possible that this trend has stabilized or even turned around. A total of 21 new girls basketball programs were introduced last year, and five more schools added softball to their offerings.
New opportunities are emerging for high school girls in the realm of sports on the internet.
The upcoming weekend, the NCHSAA is organizing the inaugural state championship for girls’ wrestling at the Greensboro Coliseum. In 2019, the NCHSAA held a non-sanctioned invitational for girls’ wrestling. Although it was not an official sport, the NCHSAA allowed girls to compete for a trophy, albeit not a state championship one.
After the event, J. Mike Blake of HighSchoolOT commented that what occurred on Saturday was a modest start to what could potentially be seen as a turning point in the future. He believes that this could lead to a time when there will be a sufficient number of female wrestlers to form all-girl teams or have a separate division for girls in state championships.
His prediction was correct. In April 2022, all members of the NCHSAA Board of Directors agreed to officially recognize girls wrestling as a sport. The upcoming tournament for girls will now be considered a true state championship tournament. This is the first time a sport has been officially recognized by the NCHSAA since lacrosse in 2010.
During the sanctioning process, the NCHSAA reported that there were 210 schools with a minimum of one female wrestler and 125 schools with a minimum of two.
In recent years, the popularity of the sport has increased and the NFHS has introduced weight categories specifically for female wrestlers. Currently, there are 6,545 schools and 50,016 athletes nationwide involved in girls wrestling.
However, it is conceivable that girls’ wrestling is only the starting point.
The popularity of girls’ flag football is rapidly increasing in North Carolina, as well as in other parts of the United States. This is largely due to the generous support and funding from the Carolina Panthers. Several schools in the Charlotte Mecklenburg, Cabarrus County, and Union County districts have already adopted the sport, as well as nearby Mooresville High School and A.L. Brown High School. Wake County Schools will be hosting its SupHer Bowl Saturday event this weekend, and New Hanover County Schools will kick off their first girls’ flag football season in March.
There are currently 500+ girls and 20 schools involved in the first season of Wake County’s program. The number of schools participating in the sport is expected to increase to around 70 next year, and could potentially be even higher if more school districts join in.
It is highly probable that the NCHSAA will meet the requirements to approve girls flag football as a sanctioned sport this year or next. Once it has been met for two consecutive years, the NCHSAA Board of Directors may then consider making girls flag football a sanctioned sport.
Each weekend, I have attended girls flag football games in Wake County. Contrary to expectations of a lackluster game, we have witnessed impressive performances from players who excel in other sports. An athletic director also shared that there are girls participating who are not involved in any other sport.
This is the main goal – to offer more opportunities for girls to join and ensure that as many high school students as possible can enjoy the advantages of participating in interscholastic sports.
As we observe National Girls and Women in Sports Day this Wednesday, we can rejoice in the significant advancements made and the continued growth of girls’ sports in North Carolina.