It's safe to say that high school sports are popular in the state of Louisiana, but southwest Louisiana is missing out on opportunities by not offering certain sports.

However, it is not as simple as snapping your fingers when it comes to starting a program.

In Vernon Parish, no school offers wrestling, while in Beauregard Parish, no school offers volleyball – two of the biggest sports in the country.

Leesville High School fields a volleyball team, while South Beauregard offers wrestling  and has for five years.

“It’s hard,” Leesville volleyball coach Rebecca Croney said earlier this season. “It’s exhausting, and my girls are exhausted. You travel a lot more. Tuesday night, we traveled to Shreveport to play Evangel and back. They have to work really hard, but it’s good because it means we stand out. We’re one of the few.”

South Beauregard also started girls soccer last year and started varsity play this season. The Lady Ks had an impressive first season, earning a No. 17 seed in the playoffs.

“We’ve been playing girls that have played for years,” South Beauregard soccer coach Derek Midkiff said. “We started five girls (against Leesville) that this is their first year ever stepping on a soccer field. We even had a seventh grader running wing tonight, so our future is bright."

Wrestling had 245,564 participants in 2018-19 and is listed as the eighth most popular sport, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSH), which is an increase of 760 wrestlers from the previous year.

“Wrestling is huge in New Orleans, Shreveport and Baton Rouge,” South Beauregard wrestling coach Michael Capitano said in the preseason. “People don’t realize that wrestling was huge at LSU before they cut their program. When I moved here 10 years ago, I was shocked there was not any wrestling. All these small towns in Pennsylvania, their big thing is wrestling. On Wednesday, they fight.

“I think the parish has to recognize the sport. Once they do, we’ll get more publicity.”

Volleyball is the third most popular girls program in the country with 16,434 schools offering the program with 446,583 participants.

Overall participation in all high school sports has gradually increased every year since 1988-89, according to the NFSH.

Louisiana ranks 27th in the country in participation with 109,119 athletes and is the 25th most populated state.

First step

The first step in deciding whether or not a program can be started is gauging interest in the sport. If a high school cannot find athletes that even want to participate, there is no need to start the program. If enough athletes want to play, schools need to find a staff.

At DeRidder High School, when Principal Harry Hooker is approached about starting a program, he explains the steps and the difficulties that go into it.

"I get approached about once a year from a student that wants to start a sport," he said. "I break it down and explain it all to them. I tell them that I know you and your buddy want to play it, but who is going to coach it? Who is going to sponsor it? Who is going to do all of this? Is this just a passing fad? I can't invest in something that when you graduate in a year is done.

"I tell them to work through a rec league to gain some interest in it. You can't like something in P.E. and make it a sport."

Title IX

Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 states that "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

The LHSAA is not federally funded, so Title IX has no effect on adding high school sports, unlike college athletics. However, in the LHSAA handbook, it reads "...it does believe that all concerned should take steps to be sure that the spirit and intent of gender equity are met."

Money
The biggest part of starting a program is money. Buying equipment and paying officials and coaches add up. A wrestling program, which is a cheaper program to start, can cost up to $9,800 before adding salaries and paying officials. The LHSAA requires a minimum amount charged at the gate, and if the gate cannot pay the officials, it has to come out of the school's budget.

Scheduling

Finding teams to play certain sports can be difficult for the administration. Many teams travel hours for competition, and some would need to travel to bigger areas that would overmatch smaller schools.

Long trips increase travel expenses and also increase the amount of time students are on the road. The athletes would be going to school on less sleep while keeping up the same class load.

Benefits

Student-athletes, on average, have a higher GPA than non-athletes, due to the fact that they have to have a certain GPA to participate. Along those lines, former athletes tend to get better jobs and earn more money, according to a study done at Cornell University. Student-athletes gain leadership skills and self-confidence from their times on courts, field and pitches.

Along with the life skills it provides, athletics can also take some of the stress of paying for college away. According to Forbes, in the United States, there is $1.5 trillion of student loans debt.

In Division I and Division II, the NCAA provides more than $2.9 billion worth of athletic scholarships.

"It's everything for the kids," Hooker said. "Different sports work on different types of coordination and muscles. I only see benefits in playing multiple sports. Some kids need an outlet to grow and exert some energy. A lot of kids, if it wasn't for sports, wouldn't be at school."