Gender Division in High School Baseball Participation Rates

High school baseball is dominated by boys, but maybe it's time to encourage girls to play. (via K.M. Klemencic)

Boys dominate high school baseball, but maybe it’s time to encourage girls to play. (via K.M. Klemencic)

Major League Baseball is the biggest corporation associated with baseball. In many ways, it affects the way we see and interpret the game, but it is not the only place where the game is played.

People play baseball all over the world, with varying rules and at very different skill levels. Some people play in college while others play in high school, and some play Little League. In the grander baseball realm, we don’t often think of these other levels or institutions, but they have a big impact on the game we know and love.

The more kids play baseball in high school, the better chance they will have of becoming fans of the game. Having more kids play high school baseball will also increase the size of the talent pool. The more kids play, the more talent there will be for scouts to pick from.

These other subcultures, though, can also bring a sobering reminder of the inequalities in the sport. They can provide a reference as to why, for example, we don’t see more women in baseball. Not just playing the game, but on television, in front offices, and writing about the sport. You don’t have to look beyond this site to know that women are discouraged from playing and participating in the game—both Alexis Brudnucki and Corinne Landrey have detailed such experiences here at THT.

I was curious about the precise gender disparity, so I did some digging, and I was able to find data on high school participation rates in baseball. The data was gathered from a survey done by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). According to Chris Boone, the Assistant Director of Publications and Communications at NFHS, the NFHS rely on their member state associations to gather the data for each state.

The survey goes back to 1969-1970, but due to irregularities in the data (mainly in 1975-1976 and 1976-1977), having the same values for baseball participation rates, and some inconsistencies with the years, I’ve decided to start my analysis with 1977-1978. Let’s start with overall participation rates for girls and boys in baseball.

 
If it wasn’t clear before, it should be clear now—there is a huge divide between girl and boy participation rates in high school baseball.

For the boys, it’s pretty clear that more and more of them are participating in baseball, while for girls, the trend isn’t easily detectable—at least not in this view. In the filter option, you can deselect the boys participation rate, and you will have a clearer picture of the girls participation rates.

Since 1977-1978 there is an upward trend in girls baseball participation rates, but not a substantial one. In fact, since 2002-2003, girls participation rates have been going down. Now, this information can be misleading as it doesn’t consider all sports participation rates for girls. But as a proportionality of all girls sports participation since 1977-1978, girls participate in baseball at an average clip of 0.0003 percent, and that number since 1977-1978 has never been over one percent. For boys, baseball participation makes up 12 percent of all other sports, and that number has had little variance over the years. In fact, that figure has never dropped below 10 percent and never exceeded 13 percent during that time span.

In general, however, baseball is a very popular sport among high school boys.

 
Since 1977-1978, baseball ranks fourth in boys participation rates behind football – 11 player (apparently sometimes football is played with fewer than 11 players), basketball and outdoor track and field.

The girls picture is very different.

Retroactive Review: Ace
Looking back at some of Justin Verlander's most interesting moments.

 
Basketball and outdoor track and field are the most popular high school sports for girls, followed by volleyball and then fast pitch softball.

Now that we’ve looked at participation for boys and girls separately overall, let’s compare them to each other.

 
The difference here is apparent. Barely any high school girls play football while it’s by far the most popular high school sport among boys. Wrestling also has quite the gap. More specific to our interests here are baseball and softball. The difference in high school boy and girl baseball participation rates is that baseball, for the girls side, is seemingly replaced with softball.

There have been many improvements for women in sports in recent decades. Womens tennis, volleyball, and basketball—among others—are becoming increasingly popular, but some sports lag behind. Baseball is one of them, and the gender binaries seem to be playing a factor.

As mentioned above, Alexis Brudnucki and Corinne Landrey detailed this beautifully here at THT. Brudnucki described her transition from baseball to softball as such:

Lifelong friends saw me grow up playing the game [baseball], first as one of three girls in the Eager Beaver Baseball Association — two of us played together — then as one of two, and finally as the only one, before my parents decided it would be best for me to move on to playing softball.”

Landrey didn’t even get to have a transition, as she only played softball growing up:

As a kid, you don’t question the reality with which you’re presented and if that meant softball was as close as I could ever get to playing the sport I loved, so be it. I played from elementary school through high school without a single regret. I loved having a physical outlet for my love of the game, even though it wasn’t exactly the game. But with the perspective brought on by time and adulthood, I’m struck by the absurdity of it all. I wanted baseball but baseball didn’t want me back. The message was crystal clear: Baseball is not for you, it’s for boys.”

It doesn’t need to be like this. We know there is no truth to the notion that doing things “like a girl” makes us inferior. Nancy Doublin has also argued that, “With the advent of Title IX, which required that schools offer all children equal opportunities in all areas of education, girls were offered more opportunity to compete, but were generally allowed to do so in separate arenas. Girls could now be excluded from baseball because schools offered softball, a more acceptable sport for women.”

Since the implementation of Title IX, there has been a precipitous rise in girls participation rates in softball. (Here I combined soft pitch softball and fast pitch softball).

 
In 1977-1978, 179,739 girls played softball in high school. In 2014-2015, 373,892 girls played softball in high school, which is a 108 percentage point change.

So, do as many girls play softball and baseball as boys play baseball and softball? With the increase in girls playing softball, it seems like a natural question. Let’s take a look:

 
If we include softball with baseball, and look at it as a proportion, a larger percentage of girls who play high school sports play softball/baseball than boys. This reinforces Doublin’s argument and displays the problematic nature with the patriarchal social system of baseball. Baseball as a system is keeping women out by putting them in a different game.

These type of institutional problems can be difficult to change. The first step toward change is recognizing the issue at hand. Often in the baseball community we will talk about the problems at the major league level, without considering the underlying institutions. This isn’t definitive proof — we can’t assume that every girl playing softball would want to play baseball, but it’s pretty strong evidence nonetheless. Girls (and boys) should be given the choice to play whichever sport they want.

Because, let’s face it, finding girls to play high school sports is not an issue.

 
More girls are playing sports, and it’s likely that more than the ~33,000 girls currently playing high school baseball would if given the opportunity. It’s time to not only give them that opportunity, but to encourage it.

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Julien Assouline is a journalism student at Ryerson University, and writes for Baseball Prospectus Milwaukee. Follow him on Twitter @JulienAssouline.
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Carl
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Carl

One of the interesting facts I found the other day while researching the great Corrine piece is that softball is not a legal equivalent of baseball. Providing softball does not satisfy Title IX.

WorkFast
Guest
WorkFast
Though I have recently move full-time to an academicinstructor role, I coached amateur baseball for twenty years including eleven at the high school level. When I was scouting and umpiring the local youth leagues for talent to encourage to play baseball when they became of junior-varsity age, I also looked over at the girls’ softball action hoping to find players (who irrelevantly happened to be female) to help out my program. I identified two talented women but could not close the deal to get them to fight for the right to play baseball (school board policy prohibited girls in HS… Read more »
Bruce
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Bruce
Fascinating analysis. As I look back on my sports “career” my baseball days ended at the high school level, but transitioned to men’s softball leagues as an adult. Adult baseball leagues were hard to come by in my area 20 years ago. Why is this? What is it about the nature of the game of baseball that drives this behavior? Speed of the game and perceived difficulty, or just societal norms? I see no reason why baseball leagues, at all levels, should not be gender neutral. But then you have the daunting discussion of why not make all sports gender… Read more »
AT
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AT
It’s not a daunting discussion at all. If all sports leagues were gender-neutral, women’s representation in professional and NCAA Division I – i.e., visible – athletics would plummet in the short and long terms across all major sports (except the ones that are now exclusively male; these would see little change) unless leagues mandated a gender quota akin to that seen in many co-ed intramural sports leagues. With visibility for women athletes down and with increased competition from their male classmates, it’s not a significant stretch to believe girls’ participation in high school sports would fall also. I doubt that’s… Read more »
MarylandBill
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MarylandBill
Lets first start with the admission that Softball is baseball, its just a somewhat different code that is probably about as close to the “baseball” game that was played in the mid 19th century as modern baseball is to that code. Now I am not pointing this out to argue that women should be satisfied playing it. Rather, it is to point out that by giving it a different name, we have allowed baseball to highlight a fact that is common in other women’s sports but is hidden by the fact that they have the same name. Women and girls… Read more »
Tom
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Tom
This article is misguided because it starts with the faultiest of premises. Softball and baseball are two totally different sports. Fastpitch is to many a more exciting sport at the college level. This makes fastpitch unique among college sports. Look at women’s basketball: it is the exactly the same sport as men’s basketball played at a lower level. But fastpitch softball is a totally different sport than baseball. There are many men who are huge fastpitch softball fans who care nothing for college baseball. How may MEN are bigger fans of women’s college basketball than men’s? So Julien, I think… Read more »
james wilson
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james wilson
Baseball laughs at your notion of equality. Before puberty, girls can, in a few instances, compete with boys. At and after puberty the gulf becomes insurmountable. The boys who are left on the field by the age of 16 are there because the game has not embarrassed them, and that is no large percentage. Not only do girls not belong there, they are giving up their opportunity to excel by being there. The biggest impediment is a slow bat, but there are others. A wood bat is a death sentence. As it was for most of us. You all need… Read more »
MarylandBill
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MarylandBill
Where to start… well lets start with the fact that you are arguing against a case that this article was not necessarily trying to make, which is that men and women should compete on the same team. The actual point of the article was to suggest that by steering women to softball, we were in fact steering them out of the sport except as fans and ultimately treating them as second class citizens. Further, I am not convinced that women wouldn’t be able to hit a male pitched baseball in a high school or college setting. While a fastpitch softball… Read more »
james wilson
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james wilson
I’ve played a lot of baseball and I never met a social justice warrior on the field. They are all over sports journalism and nerdy baseball blogs like white on rice. Fact: gaining a spot on a high school baseball, football, or basketball team is very competitive. Exponentially more competitive than getting a place in a women’s game. There are ten boys if not more trying out for each sport at the next level for every girl interested in getting onto a woman’s team. There would be no way to field a woman’s baseball team, and no way to retain… Read more »
MarylandBill
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MarylandBill
First thought, the competitiveness of men’s versus women’s teams is totally irrelevant to the discussion at hand because, if that were a logical argument against women in sports, it could be used to argue against any and all women’s team sports… assuming it is true, which I actually find somewhat questionable. Maybe it was 20 or 30 years ago, but I know (or know of) tons of girls participating in varsity HS sports. Secondly, I fail to see how it would be impossible to field a women’s baseball team. Right now, fast pitch softball is quite popular among girls and… Read more »
55 in 41
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55 in 41

Thank you for some sense on this issue, James. It is not the popular opinion in this gender confused world but it is nice to see an intrepid voice in the midst of the dross.

Richie
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Richie

I was going to disregard all this, but sorry, if you present me with a pinata I have to take one swing at it:

“You don’t have to look beyond this site to know that women are discouraged from playing and participating in the game—both Alexis Brudnucki and Corinne Landrey have detailed such experiences here at THT.”

Citing from your OWN! site to support your argument that what you say exists actually does exist?? Jeepers. You can’t mail it in any more thoroughly than that.

Tommyp
Guest

Is there anything liberals won’t try to ruin? I’m done with this site and the ridiculous SJW’s BS. How bout more baseball and less politics? Is that too much to ask? Evidently

Coach W
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Coach W

No, Tommyp, there is nothing that they won’t try to ruin. They couldn’t play baseball themselves, so they want to hurt those who could and can by ruining the game. Fight them to your last breath.

Nate
Guest
Nate
And to what level do we give the opportunity? There’s two major options here: 1. Offer women’s baseball. Okay, but that would likely ruin the existence of softball, as schools likely won’t be able to offer both softball and baseball. I can’t imagine that all of your major organizations that help promote softball, teach the game, and officiate it’s rules would be too keen on ending all their work for the sake of getting baseball. Not to mention, this article provided no actual support the idea that there are millions of girls knocking down the doors to play baseball instead… Read more »
Coach W
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Coach W

This article is SJW horsecrap from beginning to end.

If you don’t stop publishing this SJW nonsense, I will stop reading your website. And I doubt strongly that I am alone in that.

KEEP YOUR POLITICS OUT OF OUR BASEBALL!

Brian
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Brian
It’s interesting how this is framed. It could similarly be said that boys aren’t given the opportunity to play softball, could it not?? As a man that has played competitive fastpitch softball his whole life, I was never given the opportunity to play on the many girls’ teams while in school, instead told I had to play baseball (which I chose not to outside of trying out once, and being cut, in middle school). I still play fastpitch, and have to drive out of town for all league games and tournaments since locally there are only womens leagues. So why… Read more »
Julien Assouline
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The point or the goal of Title IX is to make sure that people on the basis of their sex will not be excluded from participating in educational programs, which involves sports. If you were left out or denied the entry to a softball team because you were male. Then YES, that would be a Title IX issue. I personally and unfortunately don’t know if men are being discriminated against in softball. With that said, I do know that women are in baseball. Through the numerous sexist stereotypes, such as, “throwing a ball like a girl”. Or the sexist commentary… Read more »
Brian
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Brian
Equality is not the goal, here. Otherwise this article would have been framed about trying to find a way to get men accepted into softball. It seems that girls simply choose to play softball rather than baseball. Just like boys choose to play golf rather than field hockey. I don’t see that as a problem. Not every sport, or group, or profession, needs to have an equal balance of males and females and racial breakdown. There are genetic and cultural differences between us that lead us to make choices in life. Keyword: choices. We shouldn’t automatically assume there’s a problem… Read more »
Howard
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Howard
Your thinking is the classic case of the diseased ultra liberal mind. Woman simply aren’t good enough to play men’s baseball at the HS level. There may be exceptions, like 1 in 10,000. And that one, if EQUAL IN TALENT AND SKILL TO A MAN, should definitely be afforded the opportunity to play! Now, is your liberal mind ready for this >> EXACTLY THE NUMBERS you show in disparity equates exactly in the talent level concerning this particular sport. So, the liberal diseased mind only focuses on what they want to see. But, we have to be ‘fair’ right libby?… Read more »
Jacob
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Jacob
We have no idea how many women could play HS-level baseball because they are never given opportunities to play baseball as children. While I don’t think it is at all controversial to say that there would be many, many fewer woman ballplayers in a mixed-gender HS baseball situation, the differences would not be this drastic. I grew up in a small-town where the talent pool was sufficiently thin that I have no doubt that a couple of our best softball players would have been good enough to be on the HS baseball team if they had been trained in baseball… Read more »
Perry Barber
Guest
Thank you for the great research and insights, Julien. It’s always instructive to read the comments about articles related to this topic, that of girls being told they shouldn’t be playing baseball and the reasons for that exclusion. The rationale justifying this attitude is always the same: that softball is a more suitable sport for girls because of its less rigorous physical demands, that the dimensions of the baseball diamond are too expansive for women to be able to play well, that softball offers a far better chance of a college scholarship. These are all false justifications for steering girls… Read more »
Bill
Guest
Bill
If there are a lot of girls that want to play baseball, certainly they should have the chance. But schools and communities cannot field teams in every sport. There are financial and other limits. Are there many girls that play little league baseball? You imply that for some reason baseball is superior to softball, that the fact that girls are playing softball means it isn’t as good as the sport that the boys are playing. Why? Does one provide more exercise than the other? Or more pleasure? The graphs that you display could just as easily be used to arue… Read more »
Jacob
Guest
Jacob
I have the sense that it would be very difficult to unseat softball to make room for women playing baseball. And while you can say that it doesn’t have to be one pitted against the other, it clearly would be in many cases. I grew up in a small town in which we fielded “good” softball teams (compared to similarly-sized schools) and the talent pool was just deep enough that some would get cut, but by the time HS rolled around there were fewer people being cut from the teams than making the teams. You would never be able to… Read more »
Brian
Guest
Brian

This is dumb. Girls are naturally weaker and smaller that’s why they can’t keep up with the guys. If someone is good enough to play there is nothing stopping them.

gc
Guest
gc

Would be interested to see whether girls SB teams would be interested in playing occasional baseball exhibitions against each other by putting a mound behind the FP rubber, maybe at 55′ and bases 80′ apart on the SB field. Just because the 3P line is different and the ball is smaller does not mean that women’s basketball is not basketball. HR’s would go up, K’s would go down, pitcher arm injuries unfortunately would probably spike.

gc
Guest
gc

But the big unanswered question is why RUGBY and DANCE are capitalized.

Rally
Guest
Rally
“Fascinating analysis. As I look back on my sports “career” my baseball days ended at the high school level, but transitioned to men’s softball leagues as an adult. Adult baseball leagues were hard to come by in my area 20 years ago. Why is this? What is it about the nature of the game of baseball that drives this behavior? Speed of the game and perceived difficulty, or just societal norms?” For me there was an unbelievable difference in recreational softball vs. adult baseball leagues. I played one year in a baseball league like that when I was 30. Played… Read more »
Bruce
Guest
Bruce

Rally,

I think you hit the nail on the head- thanks for the edifying response.

Bruce

Alvaro
Guest
Alvaro

I support the idea of expanding choice for everyone, specially for people to play baseball.
I am not sure that girls baseball could take enough athletes from softball to make a legit league, or that -even if allowed and encouraged- enough girls would crack roster spots in gender neutral league, but anything that grows the demographic for the game is good and has my support*.

*As long as we don’t introduce gender quotas, or change the game in any way to better accommodate girls.

willis
Guest
willis

These articles are ridiculous. There will never be a woman in major league baseball, unless she was born a man and then took hormones to “become” a woman. If women want to be fans of major league baseball, they can be fans of major league baseball.

This series of articles belong in a social engineering journal, not on a baseball blog.

Frank the Tank
Guest
Frank the Tank

I don’t know about that, but you could certainly make the case that some of these responses belong on 4chan or Twitter with the #Gamergate hashtag.

There are some thoughtful and respectful responses here and in the previous article that argue against the idea of women playing baseball, but they are few and far between. The majority of posters responding in opposition really just serve to illustrate the extent to which misogyny and bigotry is present among baseball fans. This, to me, is a very unfortunate situation.

Jfree
Guest
Jfree

This is the easiest thing in the world to fix. One MLB team with the balls to draft a couple women (probably in the late rounds where they normally waste picks on unsignables) and send them to rookie ball. Questions about whether they can make it to MLB or can women play or whatever are irrelevant in year one. Just draft them and watch the girl’s baseball leagues in HS and before grow like kudzu.

Question really is – do the men running MLB have balls or not?

Nate
Guest
Nate
“This is the easiest thing in the world to fix. One MLB team with the balls to draft a couple women (probably in the late rounds where they normally waste picks on unsignables) and send them to rookie ball.” And then what? Do you keep them in rookie ball for 3 years? Do you pay them next to nothing just to prove a point? What do you do if they don’t pan out? If they can’t compete, and you have to cut them to make room for people who can compete, what happens then? How long before people catch on… Read more »
Jfree
Guest
Jfree
I don’t see what the big deal is. MLB teams currently deliberately each draft about 5-10 players per year who they don’t even sign (ie chances of playing in even rookie ball = 0). There are women who can be drafted now – Eri Yoshida, Ryleigh Buck, Sarah Hudek – plus others I’m sure. 29 teams have their club rookie team and all 30 have extended spring training which is precisely where a team deals with any basic developmental stuff. If/when they are ready for competitive rookie or beyond to full-season, then they are promoted. And MLB treats them just… Read more »
Nate
Guest
Nate
You seem to buy into the nonsensical notion that one spark will start the whole forest fire. It’s not one spark. It’s one spark plus a multitude of other accelerants that get the ball rolling. Sarah Hudek or any of the women you mentioned getting drafted late in the draft, given a ridiculously small signing bonus, and stashed in a level of the minors that the casual fan doesn’t realized existed is not the likely path to spark girl’s participation in baseball. It’s going to require visibility and success for such an act of drafting a token woman to light… Read more »
Jfree
Guest
Jfree
I think you underestimate the ‘spark’ of drafting a woman. The only woman drafted by MLB to-date was Carey Schueler – but she was the daughter of the White Sox GM and was drafted by the White Sox 25 years ago so the story was about nepotism not talent or opportunity. A legitimate draft selection would be very different. It would be legitimate news – read by millions. The team itself would pay for the signing bonuses overnight with increased ticket sales with families taking their daughters to see a baseball game – so no risk AT ALL. And when… Read more »
Alex
Guest
Alex

A couple of points. One, what exactly is wrong with softball?

Two, Why do we need to force women out of a place where they have room to succeed and profit, improving the rest of their lives?

There is actually nothing stopping women from playing baseball. But why would they want to, when the rewards for softball are so much greater? It’s easy to see a difference in enrollment and cry foul, but who are we to tell a young woman that she should be sacrificing the rest of her life to change the numbers a bit?

Jfree
Guest
Jfree
You assume there is some level playing field here. MLB owns professional baseball and it has a long history of abusing its anti-trust exemption to kill off anything they don’t want/like. Including the AAGPBL (A League of Our Own) – along with the independent minor leagues in the 1950’s. They weren’t even OK with pro softball for women until about 15 years ago. And they would almost certainly blacklist any man who played in (or financial backer of) a coed baseball league ‘Professional opportunities’ is obviously not the reason girls play softball. But ‘lack of any remotely possible dream of… Read more »
Nate
Guest
Nate

“And they would almost certainly blacklist any man who played in (or financial backer of) a coed baseball league”

Proof for that statement would be excellent.

Jim
Guest
Jim
Jfree, you are full of ridiculous hyperbole and unproven claims. But I swear, once you guys get started there is no stopping you. More girls challenging the boys in baseball will only kill the rising, exciting sport of fastpitch. You, of course, no nothing (or care nothing) about fastpitch, but instead see here an opportunity to stand on your soap box and play Abraham Lincoln. So when you have destroyed the uniquely different sport of fastpitch and have a handful of women playing D1 college baseball and one woman in the low minor leagues will you be happy? What exactly… Read more »
Jim
Guest
Jim
Fastpitch softball is a totally different sport than baseball. What the author fails to understand is that there are a lot of fastpitch fans out there, women and men. How many men watch women’s college basketball? Not many because it is exactly the same sport as men’s basketball only played at a lower level. There are a lot of men who follow women’s collegiate fastpitch. It is a faster game and in many’s opinion a more exciting sport than college baseball. Why would anyone advocate getting rid of fastpitch softball? This “research” epitimozies what is wrong with the smug social… Read more »
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