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State Track - Thursday

Runners take off from the starting blocks during a heat of the girls Class 3A 200 meter dash prelims Thursday, May 17, 2018 during the Wyoming State High School Track and Field Championships in Casper.

The National Federation of High School Sports released its annual participation survey this weekend, with participation numbers increasing both nationally and in Wyoming during the 2017-18 school year.

Wyoming once again ranked No. 49 in total participation, coming ahead of both Vermont and the District of Columbia, but this time with better numbers. The Cowboy state had a total of 10,968 boys and 8,853 girls — for a total of 19,821 — participating in at least one sport during the last season. That is up from 19,412 the year before.

That number does have its nuances. Boys participation dropped slightly, down from 11,005 the year before. That total change of 37 is so close to stable that it can hardly be registered. Much more importantly, girls participation rose from 8,407. According to survey numbers there were 446 more girls participating in activities last year than the academic year before.

While participation in 11-man football nationwide has dropped steadily over the past couple of years, Wyoming saw a slight uptick in football participation — 2,616 to 2,580. And that’s interesting.

Programs like Wyoming Indian, who had to forfeit the final games of their season last year, still registered those who participated throughout the season. Even programs who forfeited their season and still played a sub-varsity portion of schedule registered participation numbers. There was also the opening of Thunder Basin High School, opening a new football program altogether. Statistically speaking, Wyoming would have dropped along with the national trend if not for the beginning of the Thunder Basin football program.

Outside of football, the number for boys participation fluctuates.

Combined numbers for alpine and nordic skiing saw a dramatic increase, up to 163 from 90. Basketball saw a small uptick at 1,793 from 1,780. Soccer, swimming and diving, and tennis all saw less than 5 percent increases. Cross country dropped slightly (565 from 600) along with golf (512 from 529). Outdoor track and field, the most popular participation sport nationwide, saw a drop from 1,804 in the 2016-17 school year to 1,685.

Numbers in 6-man football drop ever so slightly, down to 227 from 235.

Helping contribute to the spike in girls’ participation is the increasing interest in volleyball. While that has drawn some participation away from other fall sports like cross country and tennis, volleyball saw an increase to 1,867, up from 1,821. Outdoor track and field also saw a small jump to 1,496 from 1,416.

The most interesting part of track and field participation rising among girls is that it coincides with the dramatic uptick in girls participation in soccer. Those numbers rose up to 878 from 757. The only two options for sports in the spring sports season both saw increases in participation. That’s an incredibly encouraging sign for schools looking to further participation rates.

Girls’ participation in skiing also rose, primarily in nordic. Basketball, by far the most popular winter sport, saw a rise to 1,614 from 1,522 among girls. That more than offsets the introduction of Thunder Basin.

Overall, the numbers mean a great deal. Football programs in Wyoming have struggled to field teams this year and are experiencing a pinch. Most athletic directors believe that problem with alleviate when larger middle school classes move through the high schools.

But outside of football, still the most romanticized and meaningful to most communities, the numbers uplift. While the boys’ numbers are at a standstill, girls brought significant encouragements to athletic departments. Will it last, however, is the more important question and it’s one with no definitive answer.

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Follow sports reporter Brady Oltmans on Twitter @BradyOltmans

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High School Sports Reporter

Brady Oltmans reports on high school and local sports. He joined the Star-Tribune in July 2016 after covering prep sports and college soccer in Nebraska. He also contributes to University of Wyoming sports coverage. He and his dog live in Casper.

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