By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Jeb Bladine: Football still popular as player-count falls

It’s mid-Fall, and football teams at every level are trying to stretch out their seasons. But as the New York Times reported this week, player counts are steadily dwindling in what still is America’s favorite sport.


Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

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Football still dwarfs other sports in fan and player popularity. The NFL tops that fan list, followed by professional baseball and then college football. Far more American youth play football than any other sport, but some storm clouds are gathering around those statistics.

“Nationally,” the Times reported, “high school participation in 11-man football has fallen more than 10 percent since 2009.”

Participation is down 20 percent in Oregon. Even Texas — “the state that gave us $70 million high school stadiums and ‘Friday Night Lights’” — shows a 10 percent decline. The greatest falloffs are in New York, down 28 percent, and Ohio at 27 percent fewer players.

Among popular high school sports, football leads in almost every category of injury, and football’s rate of head injuries nearly doubles second-place hockey.

“The public’s awareness of football’s role in some forms of long-term brain damage,” the Times story concluded ominously, “has potentially become the sport’s kryptonite.”

Still, popularity remains high. Football delivers its fans major doses of elite athleticism, strength and strategy; individual heroics and team dynamics; and, yes, elements of risk and danger that excite fans even as they lament the injuries.

With that, here’s how things shape up for local football fans:

Most local high school players have turned in their cleats. McMinnville, Willamina and Dayton all struggled to losing season records; Sheridan, Yamhill-Carlton, Perrydale and Dallas fared better, but all lost state playoff games this month.

That leaves playoff hopes alive for Newberg (Friday vs. Central Catholic), Amity (Saturday vs. Rainier) and St. Paul (Friday vs. Days Creek).

Linfield College hosts George Fox for Saturday’s regular season finale. The Wildcats — already Northwest Conference champions for the 10th time in 11 years — await word on whether they will host an early playoff game in McMinnville.

Oregon Ducks have three league games remaining, but UO fans are nursing national playoff hopes while waiting for either Utah or USC in the Pac-12 championship game. The up-and-down OSU Beavers would be a 2019 success if they somehow knock off Oregon Nov. 30 in Eugene. And Seattle fans are beginning to believe their Seahawks are playoff-bound.

Yes, local football is winding down, but we’re still 11-plus weeks away from Super Bowl LIV in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at or 503-687-1223.


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