In the 1950s, high school football crowds were often larger than today, and schools’ quirky gyms were never more packed with partisans. Local newspapers (more numerous then) and radio stations (far fewer then) never gave school sports a greater percentage of column inches or air time than in the 1950s. Therefore, one might pick a school year in the mid 1950s as the peak of prominence for school sports in America.
That would be true if you were a boy, and a boy who played one of the few sports sponsored by schools compared to the diverse offerings of 50 to 60 years later. However, if you were a girl, and even for many boys, there wasn’t much in the way of school sports in which to participate in the so-called heyday, the “good old days,” of high school sports.
If we judge the effectiveness of school sports programs more on the basis of participation than game night attendance, then today’s programs – where many more students participate in a wider variety of activities – are a much healthier and much more educationally sound enterprise than five or six decades ago. And actually, there are also more spectators today; they’re just dispersed over more venues, sports and levels of teams today than in the 1950s.
More students in a wider variety of sports, supported by more spectators. By these measures, a better program today than existed a half-century ago.