Fewer high school students are playing football

(NBC News) High school football practice is underway in much of the county, but an increasing number of schools the Friday night lights will remain dark this season.

Earlier this week North Carolina's Chapel Hill High became the latest to cancel their varsity football season.

"Everybody wants to play, but everyone knew also we could not do it with the numbers that we have," says Jeff Nash of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

In a school of more than 1,500 students, only 30 signed up to play.

A similar lack of interest also doomed football this season at Trimble High School in Kentucky, and at Park View High School in Virginia, where most of the few players available were dangerously inexperienced.

"What it came down to for us, is not what caused this, but what the situation is now, and the situation is not safe," says Loudon County Schools spokesman Wayde Byard.

Safety has been a hot button topic at all levels of football, but to what extent those concerns are diminishing participation is hard to gauge.

The National Federation of State High School Associations reports total participation in high school football dropped more than four percent between 2007 and 2016. That's nearly 50,000 fewer players. 

Administrators in Chapel Hill say football is losing out, in part, because more athletes are specializing in just one sport.

They hope to resume varsity football next year if gridiron interest stages a comeback.

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