Nearly 43,000 high school athletes played water polo in the 2016-17 school year, the most ever among states that officially sanction the sport, according to the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS). The increase continues a trend in which the sport has grown by an average of 2.3% year-to-year since 2002. The findings were released in the organization’s annual participation report released on August 7.
Florida and Michigan both grew their numbers by nearly 5% since the 2015-16 school year making them the fastest growing states in the study. Washington DC faced the biggest loss – 13% – but features only one boys’ and girls’ team. Pennsylvania experienced a nearly 6% reduction in the number of athletes after reporting a gain of 4% one year ago.
California remains by far the biggest producer of high school water polo athletes with 32,693 reported in the 2016-17 school year, a 2% improvement over a year ago. The next most abundant state is Illinois with 3,984 boys and girls participating.
More girls than boys have participated in water polo in Hawaii for 14 of the past 15 years and do again in 2016/2017. The number of girls increased by 1.5% compared to one year ago at 670, 523 more than the boys.
Overall, girls water polo is growing at a faster clip than boys, adding 1,622 athletes since 2014. Boys improved by 400 players over the same period.
Nationwide, the total number playing football fell 2.5% in the most recent study, continuing an overall downward trend. The sport – including 11-, 9- .8-, and 6-player – remains by far the most populous sport with 1,086,748 participants in 2016-17.
Neither boys nor girls water polo cracked the list of top ten most populous sports.
The NFHS includes the water-polo playing states of California, DC, Florida, Hawai’i, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Not included in their reporting is data from several states where participation in water polo is significant, but the sport is not officially sanctioned by the high school sports organization. Oregon, Washington, Texas, and Utah are among several with high numbers of prep water polo athletes.
Note: as of date and time of this posting the NFHS database shows the number of boys who played water polo in Florida in 2016/2017 to be 526. TWp has confirmed from the FHSAA that the correct number is 1266. That data is reflected in the reporting above.