The Woodgrove Outlander

Is this the Fall of Football?

An insight on the factors that are causing Football’s decline in participation

The+Park+View+ball+carrier+is+met+by+a+swarm+of+Wolverines+at+the+2016+Park+View+vs+Woodgrove+football+game.
The Park View ball carrier is met by a swarm of Wolverines at the 2016 Park View vs Woodgrove football game.

The Park View ball carrier is met by a swarm of Wolverines at the 2016 Park View vs Woodgrove football game.

Photo by Lorallye Partlow

Photo by Lorallye Partlow

The Park View ball carrier is met by a swarm of Wolverines at the 2016 Park View vs Woodgrove football game.

Written by Casey Abashian, Maryam Khan, and Ryan Wilkinson

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The homey, familiar aroma of fresh-cut grass consumes each breath as the impact of a bone-crushing tackle is heard throughout the audience. A packed house, filled to the brim with students, parents, and coaches alike erupts in approval, united over a common American pastime.

Football remains the country’s most popular spectator sport; however, over the past several years, concerns over player safety, American demographic changes, and the quality of life former players enjoy has left the contest’s popularity in a downward trend.

According to a Gallup study, football’s popularity peaked in 2006 and 2007, with 43 percent of Americans saying that football was their favorite sport to watch. Over the course of the last decade, football has seen a decline in popularity, dipping to a 37% rating in December of 2017. Football, known as a fierce and physical game since its inception, now engages a raging debate questioning if the sport’s recent emphasis on player safety is having a positive or negative impact on the well-being of its athletes on a local and professional scale.

Declining participation numbers have led to the cancellation of Loudoun’s Park View High School’s varsity football program for the foreseeable future, an unprecedented turn of events for a school with such a rich athletic history. Only 18 athletes reported to the first varsity practice this year, seven players short of the participation level the Virginia High School League (VHSL) recommends in order to maintain a healthy and productive campaign. In an effort to restore the program back to a healthy, productive state, Park View and Loudoun County officials reached an agreement to play a modified junior varsity schedule for the 2018-2019 season, giving the remaining players left in the program an opportunity to develop their skills and rebuild the program in a safe, less rigorous environment.

For Park View football player Zach Hendi and the surrounding Park View School Community, the benefits behind the decision have already become apparent, with the school embracing the circumstances and rallying behind the JV squad.

“The school wasn’t discouraged at all. We took this opportunity to come back better and stronger and reclaim Park View as a competitor in the Dulles Region. Just last game, we took a win which we haven’t done in a long time and there are many more to come,” says Hendi.

On the opposite side of the county, Woodgrove football head coach Michael Skinner sees a similar decline in participation with the Wolverine football program.

“A lot of it has to do with the area you’re in, and the popularity of football. When I first came to Woodgrove or Purcellville, we had 74 kids come out for freshman football. This year, we barely have 30. Purcellville hasn’t changed, but the perception of the game has changed. Fewer kids are playing the sport growing up, and that’s having an effect on Park View and communities where you didn’t have a lot of numbers, to begin with,” says Skinner.

Dwindling participation may also be attributed to the demographic changes in each particular school zone, with some ethnicities growing up with alternatives to football such as soccer, lacrosse, and basketball instead.

“To be honest with you, with the Park View thing, and maybe with some other schools you are talking about demographics that have changed in Sterling. You have families in the area that are more into soccer,” says Woodgrove football assistant coach John Cowne.

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Is this the Fall of Football?