By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Michigan High School Athletic Association postseason events enjoyed a five-year high in attendance in 2015-16 as two sports saw record fan turnout.
Total attendance for 2015-16 was 1,483,724 fans, an increase of 6.8 percent over the previous year. Girls attendance was 461,419, less than a percent lower than the record set in 2014-15 but still the second largest overall girls turnout since data was first tracked in 1990-91. Boys attendance was 1,022,305 fans, a four-year high helped notably by an increased football crowd last fall. Attendance is kept for all sports except golf, skiing and tennis, for which admission typically is not charged.
The track & field and bowling tournaments, which include attendance for girls and boys events combined, 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 did rebound 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 Pre-District, District and Regional levels.
Ten more tournament series showed increases in total attendance over the 2014-15 school year: gymnastics (2.0 percent), 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 and individual wrestling all saw increases in overall attendance from the previous school year. 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. Volleyball did, however, set attendance records at the Regional (26,445) and Semifinal (4,765) levels of the tournament.
Also of note:
• 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 softball attendance increased for the third straight year to 44,515, the highest total since the record-setting spring of 1994-95.
• Boys Soccer Finals drew 4,906 fans, the most for that event since 2007-08.
• Coming off a record high in 2013-14 and then a sharp decrease the following year, the Ice Hockey Finals rebounded with 10,709 fans, a 7.9 percent increase from the winter before.
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,400 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.4 million spectators each year.
The Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association began examining several topics during its Fall Meeting, Dec. 1 in East Lansing – including start and end dates of the winter calendar, possible new transfer rule exceptions and emerging sports – that will shape its work during the winter and spring meetings of this 2023-24 school year.
Generally, the Council takes only a few actions during its Fall Meeting, with topics often introduced for additional consideration and action during its meetings in March and May. The Council did take three actions this time as part of larger conversations expected to continue over the next six months.
The Council joined staff discussion on the start and end dates of winter seasons and the possibility of moving up both, which was among topics surveyed as part of the Update Meeting poll completed by administrators during the MHSAA’s annual presentations across the state this fall. Staff will prepare a recommendation for Council to review at a future meeting regarding the 2025-26 school year and beyond.
MHSAA staff also provided a variety of transfer rule issues encountered over the last year, and Council discussed the possibility of adding transfer rule exceptions related to military transfer families, fulltime school employee transfers and students returning from a sports academy or prep school and seeking immediate eligibility. The Council did adopt a change for multi-high school districts (with at least three high schools) that include both boundary and non-boundary schools that more clearly defined where students at those schools have immediate eligibility.
The Council also discussed possible new and emerging sports, including proposals for MHSAA sponsorship received by the water polo and field hockey governing bodies and an anticipated proposal to add boys volleyball to the MHSAA Tournament lineup.
Several more conversations regarded MHSAA postseasons:
- The Council reviewed the work of the Football Task Force and considered a staff recommendation to have the Football Committee in January discuss possibly capping enrollment of Division 8 11-player schools at 250 students to incentivize schools within that group to play 11-player instead of switching to 8-player.
- MHSAA staff have identified four areas requiring financial increases – MHSAA Tournament officials fees, host schools compensations, manager honorariums and team reimbursements for Finals participants – and the Council discussed the importance of including these when the MHSAA Audit & Finance Committee meets in February to begin the 2024-25 budgetary process.
- The Council also discussed recommendations from the MHSAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee addressing possible requirements of emergency action plans and AEDs at MHSAA Tournament sites.
The Fall Meeting saw the appointment of Wyoming Godfrey-Lee Schools superintendent Arnetta Thompson and Freeland Middle School principal Jennifer Thunberg to two-year terms to the 19-person Council, the first terms for both. The Council also reelected Scott Grimes, superintendent for Grand Haven Area Public Schools, as its president; Brighton High School athletic director John Thompson as its vice president, and Vic Michaels, director of physical education and athletics for the Archdiocese of Detroit, as secretary-treasurer.
The Representative Council is the legislative body of the MHSAA. All but five members are elected by member schools. Four members are appointed by the Council to facilitate representation of females and minorities, and the 19th position is occupied by the Superintendent of Public Instruction or designee.
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.4 million spectators each year.