Out-of-the-box sports finding homes at high school level
Friday Night Lights are in no danger of dimming in the foreseeable future. Basketball and baseball are doing just fine, too. Ditto other traditional high school sports like soccer, track, cross country, volleyball and softball.
But with millions of high schoolers scattered throughout the 50 states, there are plenty of interests beyond the mainstream sports. Some are quirky (double dutch), some are foreign (cricket), some are just plain fun (flag football) and some are simply inspiring (wheelchair basketball). All of them, however, are unique and worthy of some love.
1. Wheelchair basketball
Nothing on this list is as inspirational as wheelchair basketball. Colleges around the country have long offered scholarships to talented players, while travel teams composed of high schoolers have also been around for a while. But recently, states like Illinois and Georgia have started offering wheelchair-bound athletes the chance to experience the pride and thrill of high school sports.
2. Double Dutch
For years, athletes have used jumping rope to get ready for competition. Now, jumping rope is the competition. Check that -- double dutch is the competition. Needing at least three participants and two ropes, double dutch consists of two people turning the ropes while one (or more) jumps over them, usually adding some flair with dance or acrobatic moves. This spring, double dutch will be played at 10 high schools in New York City.
3. Flag Football
With its emphasis on speed, athleticism and flatout fun, flag football is starting to catch up to softball and track in terms of popularity among girls in Florida. Recognized by the Florida High School Athletic Association since 2003 but played on a club level since 1998, flag football participation in the Sunshine State has grown by more than 500 percent in the past 10 years. Recently, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America joined forces with the NFL to promote the sport around the country.
Spend time in New York City parks and you'll undoubtedly see a game of cricket. So maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that NYC's Public Schools Athletic League launched the nation's inaugural prep cricket season last spring. Fueled by the interest of immigrants coming from cricket-mad countries like India, 15 co-ed teams hit the field in 2008. And the name of the Queens school that won the inaugural title couldn't have been more appropriate -- Newcomers.
5. Bass Fishing
With the rise in popularity and TV exposure for pro bass fishing, it was only a matter of time before it made its way to the high school level. Starting this school year, bass fishing is an officially recognized activity by the Illinois High School Athletic Association. If Illinois has any success during the spring season, who knows how many other states will be lured in by the sport.
6. Synchronized Swimming
Starting FiveJust because a sport isn't recognized by state associations doesn't mean we can't show it some love. Here are our top five club sports.
1. Frisbee Golf
Let's see Tiger Woods toss a disc into a hole the size of a basketball hoop.
2. Ultimate Frisbee
This longtime college pastime is starting to catch on in high schools. And yes, we like Frisbees.
The only sport where getting dirty is a bad thing.
4. Underwater Hockey
A simple formula, really: take the basic idea of hockey, add in swimming and you've got a winner.
Any sport where you use a broom gets our respect. Watch out Canada, we're coming for you.
Limited mostly to the movies these days as a relic of another era, fencing can't keep up with the major sports. But in some areas, it's thriving at the high school level. The Georgia High School Fencing League was created four years ago with just two schools and now has 13. Fencing is also huge in New Jersey, with major newspapers putting out team rankings and Player of the Year honors.
We all know how impressive those Olympic power-lifting competitions look on TV. Well, turns out high schoolers -- male and female -- are showing their muscle in similar competitions at the state level. In Florida, for instance, last year's girls' champion in the 101-pound class recorded a bench press of 120 pounds and a clean and jerk of 145.
Participation is scattered across the country, but more than 1,500 boys and girls let the arrows fly for their high school teams last year. And if it were up to us, every competitor would have to shout, "This arrow shall blot out the sun!" before each shot. But that might just be our lingering obsession with "300" talking.
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