Marathon student-athlete participation goes against state trend

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MARATHON, Wis. (WSAW) -- On a fall Friday night in Marathon, a lot of members of the small community come out to cheer on the Red Raiders football team.

“We’ve got a community that’s very supportive,” said Curt Miller, Marathon’s athletic director. “We’ve got a rich athletic history here in Marathon and our administration, our school board is really supportive and really values athletics as a positive extension of the classroom.”

That positive support may be a part of the reason why the Marathon School District is going against what seems to be a statewide trend of declining student participation in athletics, especially high school football. In Marathon, 68% of students compete in at least one sport, and those numbers are expected to rise.

“Out of all of our athletes, two thirds of them are out for multiple sports,” said Miller. “Our middle school numbers are at 80% participation, so it’s wonderful.”

Over the past decade, participation in high school football has dropped by nearly 7,000 students. Wade Labecki, deputy director with the WIAA, says there’s a few different causes for declining numbers.

“The enrollment has dropped dramatically,” said Labecki. “That’s in public schools and when you drop enrollment that far, you’re going to have less kids to play.”

Labecki also cited parents encouraging kids to specialize in one sport rather than trying out a variety of options as a possible factor.

“When you start in youth programs, the average age of a youth athlete specializing is 12 years old, and you’ll see kids dropping out at 13 years old,” said Labecki. “Kids go out for sports because they’re fun, kids quit sports because they’re not fun. We have to figure out how we can make sports fun at the youth level so that they go on and continue at the high school level.”

A problem that doesn’t need to be solved in Marathon.