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Report: High school girls basketball participation down 19% since 2002

Sidwell Friends (Washington, D.C.) players huddle before a game against St. Paul VI on Jan. 9 in Chantilly, Va. (Scott Taetsch for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Girls basketball was among the leaders in popularity in high school sports two decades ago, but according to an article published in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, the sport has lost 19 percent of its participation since 2002.

Last year, basketball fell to the fourth-most popular girls sport by participation, according to data released this month by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Meanwhile, track and field, the top sport among girls, grew 10%. Volleyball and soccer also saw participation increases at 15% and 27%, respectively.

Overall, boys and girls sports at the high school level declined 4% since 2019 in the first national survey of the post-pandemic era. In that same time, girls basketball dropped 7%.

With TV ratings for the NCAA women’s basketball tournament and the WNBA on the rise, the decline in participation at the scholastic level is even more striking.

The WSJ report indicates that several forces are driving the decline, including the reality that more athletes are sticking to one sport year-round. Other factors include schools adding other sports, which have lured athletes away from the court, and the suggestion of coaches that some girls view basketball as too difficult, or not “girly” enough, to play.

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Clay County (Tenn.) guard Abby Head, right, dribbles against Gleason guard Alayna Anderson during the Class 1A state tournament on March 10 in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (The Tennessean via USA TODAY NETWORK)

“It’s sad,” Justin F. Kimball (Texas) girls basketball coach Erica Delley told the WSJ. “That’s why I came back, to make a difference and try to encourage kids to play.”

Delley is a first-year coach at her alma mater, where she played in the early 2000s when the program was a regional power. The Knights had just one player from last year’s team signed up to play, according to Delley, but she was able to convince two others to return before recruiting two dozen more with T-shirts and a promise that she’d teach them the game. Most of her team has never played basketball before.

In Texas, there is an issue with parity between powerhouse programs and smaller programs with depleted rosters, partly because of open-enrollment policies. Despite the state’s surging population, girls basketball participation has dropped 38% in the last two decades.

“A lot of athletes are specializing sooner,” Mansfield (Texas) girls basketball coach Brooke Brittain told the WSJ. “If their parents are paying thousands of dollars for them to play [club] volleyball, they don’t want them missing practice to play a basketball game.”

Iowa is another example of the decline in girls basketball participation. Girls have played high school basketball in Iowa for more than a century in front of packed crowds, but the state now has half as many players as it did during the late 1990s.

While the quality of top players remains high, many girls are choosing sports that require less specialized skill and are less exerting than basketball, according to former Valley (Iowa) girls basketball coach Josef Sigrist.

“I think club volleyball and softball and soccer in some respects are doing OK because they don’t require the physical task on your body that maybe basketball does,” Sigrist told the WSJ.

Following the overlap of a large club volleyball tournament and high school district playoffs on Presidents Day weekend in Nebraska, Creighton volleyball coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth tweeted, “VB is negatively affecting BB participation. I’m grateful for the depth of VB talent in this state, but not at the demise of BB.”

Booth said in an interview that club tournaments have become so important that some athletes won’t participate in high school basketball in order to avoid letting down their club volleyball coaches and teammates with potential absences. With girls basketball participation down 28% since 2002 in Nebraska, Booth said she encourages multisport participation.

The number of girls basketball teams has dropped 12% in Nebraska over the last two decades, which is a result of school closures, consolidations and cooperative sponsorships, according to the Nebraska School Activities Association.

Trent Singer is the High School Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @trentsinger.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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