While football remains California's No. 1 high school participatory sport, parental concerns about concussions may be affecting its popularity.
The California Interscholastic Federation released its sports participation survey Tuesday. While overall participation in prep sports continues to rise, football continues to drop from its high of 107,916 participants in 2007.
The CIF said 102,505 boys participated in football last year, a drop of 583 from the 2012 survey. The Sac-Joaquin Section also saw a slight decline during the same period, from 13,779 to 13,722.
"One of the biggest concerns I hear from parents these days are concussions, and rightfully so," said Mesa Verde football coach Ron Barney. "I think the media has made a big thing of it, especially with what's happened in the past with the NFL."
Yet Barney, who has coached football 38 seasons at the Citrus Heights school, said his numbers are up slightly over previous years, even though the Mavericks haven't had a winning football season since 2004.
"We're a football school," Barney said. "We have 40 on our varsity, which is typical for us, and 115 in the three levels. That's pretty good for a school of 1,000 students."
While Barney agrees concussions are a huge challenge, he said coaches and players are better informed about prevention and treatment. Coaches also are getting wiser about limiting the amount of contact in practice without compromising performance.
"The CIF is looking at rule changes as far as contact, and I think that will help," Barney said. "And as we do more preventive things, such as baseline testing, I think you will see the numbers come back up."
While football interest remains strong at some schools, athletic participation is declining along with school enrollment.
Colfax, one of the area's most successful football schools, dropped its freshman football program Monday when only 16 students had been cleared for workouts. Those athletes have been moved to the junior varsity team.
This year, Colfax has an enrollment of 680, a drop of 246 students since 2010.
Section media director Will DeBoard said economic stagnation and stunted growth have hit a number of foothill communities, leading to declining enrollments at several high schools.
"Some areas now are being seen more as retirement communities," DeBoard said.
The CIF said 758,474 athletes are competing in sports, a nearly 1 percent increase over last year.
Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.