MHSAA High School Sports Participation Continues to Exceed Population Ranking Nationally

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

September 15, 2023

Michigan continued to rank 10th nationally in high school-aged population during the 2022-23 school year and continued to best that ranking in participation in high school sports, according to the annual national participation study conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).

Michigan ranked ninth for overall participation nationally, based on a total of 268,070 participants who competed in sports for which the MHSAA conducts postseason tournaments. The total counts students once for each sport played, meaning students who are multiple-sport athletes are counted more than once.

Michigan also ranked ninth nationally for both girls (111,569) and boys (156,501) participation separately, while ranking ninth for high-school aged boys population and 10th for girls according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Michigan’s national rankings in seven sports improved from 2021-22, while nine sports saw lower national rankings than the previous year. The biggest jumps came in girls volleyball and boys soccer, which both moved up two spots – volleyball to fourth-highest participation nationally, and boys soccer to eighth. Girls golf (fourth), softball (seventh), girls track & field (seventh), girls swimming & diving and boys swimming & diving (both eighth) also moved up on their respective national lists.

Participation in several more MHSAA sports also continued to outpace the state’s rankings for high school-aged population.

For girls, participation in bowling (fourth), tennis (fourth), cross country (sixth), basketball (seventh), competitive cheer (ninth) and soccer (ninth) all ranked higher than their population listing of 10th nationally. Among boys sports, bowling (second), ice hockey (fourth), tennis (fifth), golf (fifth), basketball (sixth), track & field (sixth), cross country (seventh), football – all formats combined (seventh) and baseball (eighth) exceeded that ninth ranking for population.

Only 11 states sponsor alpine skiing, but Michigan ranked third on both the girls and boys lists for that sport. Wrestling, with boys and girls totals counted together, ranked eighth.

Participation nationally rose more than three percent from 2021-22 to 7,857,969 participants, the first upward movement in participation data since the all-time record of 7,980,886 in 2017-18, which was followed by the first decline in 30 years in 2018-19 and the two-year halt in data collection by the NFHS related to the pandemic. (The MHSAA continued to collect and report its data during this time.) The national total includes 4,529,789 boys and 3,328,180 girls, according to figures obtained from the 51 NFHS member state associations, which include the District of Columbia.

Eleven-player football remained the most popular boys sport, and most popular participation sport overall, with the total climbing back over one million participants. The total of 1,028,761 participants marked an increase of 54,969 and 5.6 percent from the previous year. This year’s increase was the first in the sport since 2013 and only the second increase since the all-time high of 1,112,303 in 2008-09. There also was a slight gain (34,935 to 35,301) in the number of boys in 6-, 8- and 9-player football.

Next on the boys list were outdoor track & field, basketball, baseball, soccer, wrestling, cross country, tennis, golf, and swimming & diving, respectively.

On the girls side, outdoor track and field (up 6.5 percent) and volleyball (3.6) remained in the top two spots, while basketball reclaimed the third position. Cross country ranked fourth, followed by softball, soccer, golf, tennis, swimming & diving and competitive spirit, respectively.

Texas remained atop the list of state participation with 827,446, but California closed the gap in second adding 25,000 participants to climb to 787,697. New York is third with 356,803, followed by Illinois (335,801), Ohio (323,117), Pennsylvania (316,587), Florida (297,389), New Jersey (272,159), Michigan (268,070) and Minnesota (219,094), which climbed into the top 10 past Massachusetts.

The participation survey has been compiled in its current form by the NFHS since 1971.

US District Court Approves Realignment of UP Teams to Statewide MHSAA Soccer Tournament

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

August 18, 2023

Upper Peninsula teams playing boys and girls soccer will have the opportunity to participate in a statewide Michigan High School Athletic Association Tournament beginning with the 2023-24 school year after the U.S. federal court in the Western District of Michigan granted on Wednesday, Aug. 16, a joint petition to adjust that portion of the 2000s seasons litigation compliance plan that had required Upper Peninsula boys and girls soccer teams to play in opposite seasons from their Lower Peninsula counterparts.

The petition, filed together by the MHSAA and Communities for Equity, requested that Upper Peninsula soccer teams’ postseason tournaments be realigned with those of the Lower Peninsula soccer teams, such that boys teams be allowed to play with Lower Peninsula teams in a fall statewide MHSAA Boys Soccer Tournament and Upper Peninsula girls teams be allowed to play with Lower Peninsula teams in a spring statewide MHSAA Girls Soccer Tournament.

Almost 20 years ago, the federal court had assigned a separate Upper Peninsula boys tournament for the spring and a separate Upper Peninsula girls tournament for the fall as part of the compliance plan emerging from litigation in a lawsuit filed by Communities for Equity in 1998. The resulting compliance plan, with Lower Peninsula boys soccer season in fall and girls soccer in spring and Upper Peninsula girls soccer season in fall and boys soccer in spring, was put into place beginning with the 2007-08 school year.

However, the different seasons for Upper Peninsula and Lower Peninsula soccer proved unworkable. To realize a full regular season, both boys and girls Upper Peninsula soccer teams at that time instead chose to play during the same regular seasons as their Lower Peninsula counterparts, forgoing participation in an Upper Peninsula-only MHSAA Tournament that was offered consistent with the original compliance plan.

Totals of 13,221 boys and 11,921 girls played on MHSAA member high school soccer teams statewide during the 2022-23 school year. This decision means that hundreds of Upper Peninsula girls and boys soccer players will have the opportunity to have a meaningful regular season and play in a statewide postseason soccer tournament.

“This is great news for our member schools, especially those soccer programs in our Upper Peninsula. We appreciate the partnership on this issue with Communities for Equity, in particular President Diane Madsen, working together in a spirit of cooperation and common sense in making this positive change for soccer players in our state” said MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl. 

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 1.3 million spectators each year.