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Attendance on the Rise

One of the features of school sports that is unmatched by non-school youth sports travel teams is that school events usually draw crowds of spectators. Not just family members, but classmates and citizens of the local community are drawn to attend school sports events.

Among proof of the enduring importance and high profile of school-sponsored sports is that Michigan High School Athletic Association tournament attendance continues to climb despite all the distractions of modern society. Here are highlights reported by the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Geoff Kimmerly in October:

  • Girls postseason events set a record for attendance for the third straight school year in 2015-16, and overall tournament attendance spiked to its highest total of the last five years.
  • Total attendance for 2015-16 was 1,484,095 fans, an increase of 6.8 percent over the previous year. Girls attendance was 473,241 fans, an increase of 10,141 (or 2.2 percent) over the record total from 2014-15. Boys attendance was 1,010,854 fans, a four-year high helped notably by an increased football crowd in 2015.
  • The third straight girls record showing got a boost from girls competitive cheer, which set an overall attendance record for the 13th straight season with 39,906 fans and also set attendance records at the Final (19,993) and District (12,867) levels. The track & field and bowling tournaments, which include attendance for girls and boys events combined, also set overall records. Track & field broke a 2011-12 record with 37,773 fans overall and a Regional record of 22,413, and bowling set an overall attendance record for the fifth straight season with 13,919 fans and a Regional record of 9,948.
  • Football attendance rebounded significantly after a snowy opening weekend in 2014 resulted in the lowest playoff attendance since the 256-team 11-player field was introduced in 1999. Overall football attendance jumped to a three-year high of 389,897, a 25.4 percent increase from the 2014 postseason and with increases seen at the Predistrict, District and Regional levels.
  • Ten more tournament series showed increases in total attendance over the 2014-15 school year: girls gymnastics (2.0 percent), girls softball (2.8 percent), baseball (0.5 percent), girls swimming & diving (12.7 percent), boys swimming & diving (14.6 percent), boys basketball (1.5 percent), girls and boys cross country (combined, 2.1 percent), boys soccer (2.4 percent), team wrestling (1.6 percent) and individual wrestling (1.7 percent) all saw increases in overall attendance from the previous school year. Girls Volleyball fell just shy of equaling the previous year’s record, drawing 110,638 fans, a decrease of 293 from the 2014 season but still the second-most since records first were kept in 1990-91. Girls volleyball did, however, set attendance records at the Regional (26,445) and Semifinal (4,765) levels of the tournament.
  • The Boys Basketball Finals draw of 47,407 was a five-year high and a 16.9 percent increase from 2014-15. The Girls Basketball Finals drew 22,301 fans, the most for a Semifinals/Finals weekend since 2004-05 and an increase of 12 percent over 2014-15. Girls basketball’s overall tournament attendance of 169,523 was a decrease of 1.2 percent from 2014-15, but still the second-highest attendance for the sport since 2005-06.
  • Overall girls softball attendance increased for the third straight year to 44,515, the highest total since the record-setting spring of 1994-95.
  • Team Wrestling Regionals reached a seven-year high and individual wrestling’s rise was fueled by increases at all three levels of that tournament, including five-year highs at the Regional and Final levels.
  • Boys Soccer Finals drew 4,906 fans, the most for that event since 2007-08.

Not included in these figures are those who attend MHSAA tournaments in golf, skiing and tennis for which admission typically is not charged and likely pushed the total attendance over 1.5 million for the 2015-16 school year.

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About the Author

Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts has been at the helm of the MHSAA as its Executive Director since 1986, implementing programs and overseeing tournament administration and regulations for the Association which boasts 1,500 member schools, 10,000 registered officials and 13,000 head coaches.

During the last 44 years, Roberts has spoken to educator and athletic groups, business leaders and civic groups in almost every state and five Canadian provinces. He is one of the nation's most articulate advocates for educational athletics.

Roberts has served on the board of directors of the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), is in his second term on the board of the National Federation of State High School Associations, and is the first chairman of the NFHS Network board of directors. He has been board president for the Refugee Development Center for seven years, and is a past-chair of the board of directors of the Michigan Society of Association Executives. He is vice chair and secretary of the board of trustees for the Capital Region Community Foundation.

He is a 1970 graduate of Dartmouth College, where he played defensive safety for the Ivy League's winningest football team during that span, and he sang in Dartmouth's close harmony vocal group.

His wife, Peggy, has retired from a 30-year career in social services, and is serving as president of the board of the Fenner Nature Conservancy in Lansing.