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Fewer played Mass. high school football in 2011

For the fifth straight year, participation in football across the state has dropped. Last fall, 19,865 students played the game, according to a survey released by the MIAA last week. It’s also the first time since 2002 that the number has dropped below 20,000.

With increased concern over concussions, could the drop in numbers be attributed to parents steering their sons away from football?

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“I’d say the bigger issue is the kids that concentrate on one sport now,’’ said Lincoln-Sudbury football coach Tom Lopez. “Rather than play two sports, they’re playing baseball or playing lacrosse 8-10 months a year now. Our numbers are still pretty good now. We haven’t seen a decline but we have lost kids who want to concentrate on one sport.’’

Pembroke football coach Bob Bancroft recognizes the growing concerns with concussions but agrees with Lopez.

“[Concussions are] definitely a part of it,’’ Bancroft said. “The other part is the proliferation of one-sport athletes. That’s been happening over a long period of time but it increases every year. It’s unfortunate. I’ve always felt I want my kids to play other sports.’’

He also blames coaches for pushing kids to play their sports out of season, at the expense of the in-season sport. Bancroft criticized “coaches blatantly breaking the rules. Everybody feels everybody else is doing it so it’s OK.’’

Overall, participation in high school sports remained level at 73 percent, the first time in 12 years the athletic participation percentage has not increased.

Although football remained the most popular boys’ sport, soccer was No. 1 with girls. The fastest growing sports? That would be boys’ and girls’ lacrosse.

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