More than 44 percent of athletes at Michigan High School Athletic Association member high schools participated in more than one sport during the 2021-22 school year, according to the Multi-Sport Participation Survey conducted this spring, the fourth such survey conducted by the MHSAA over the last five years to monitor the rate of specialization in school sports.
Early and intense sport specialization has become one of the most serious issues related to health and safety at all levels of youth sports, as overuse injuries and burnout among athletes have been tied to chronic injuries and health-related problems later in life. In early 2016, the MHSAA appointed a Task Force on Multi-Sport Participation as part of a continued effort to promote and protect participant health and address the issues leading to early sport specialization. The annual Multi-Sport Participation Survey, first conducted for the 2017-18 school year, was among results of the task force’s work. (No survey was conducted for 2019-20 as spring sports were canceled due to COVID-19.)
The MHSAA 2021-22 Multi-Sport Participation Survey received responses from 85 percent of member high schools, the highest response rate of the four years the survey has been conducted. Survey results showed a slightly lower percentage of member high school students participating in athletics compared to the inaugural survey in 2017-18 – but a higher percentage of multi-sport athletes among those playing at least one sport.
For 2021-22, schools responding to the survey showed 40.4 percent of their students participated in athletics during the last school year – 43.5 percent of boys and 37 percent of girls. Class D schools enjoyed the highest percentage of athletes among the entire student body, at 51.8 percent, followed by Class C (47.8), Class B (41.3) and Class A (37.7).
Those percentages – total and by Class – all were slightly lower than what was produced by the 2017-18 survey, which saw 42.5 percent of students total participating in athletics. However, the percentage of athletes competing in multiple sports in 2021-22 was higher than in 2017-18, 44.3 percent to 42.8 percent.
For 2021-22, 46.5 percent of male athletes and 41.4 percent of female athletes played multiple sports. Class D again enjoyed the highest percentage of multi-sport athletes among this group, at 60.8 percent, followed by Class C (58.5), Class B (49.5) and Class A (36.7).
Similar results for overall sport participation and multi-sport participation relative to enrollment size were seen by further breaking down Class A into schools of fewer than 1,000 students, 1,000-1,500 students, 1,501-2,000 students and more than 2,000 students. For both sport participation as a whole and multi-sport participation specifically, the smallest Class A schools enjoyed the highest percentages, while percentages then decreased for every larger size group of schools. This has remained consistent over the last five years.
“The multi-sport participation survey again shows that student-athletes across the state continue to focus on participation in several sports and the benefits that come with that participation for their school teams. What the numbers don’t show is the behind-the-scenes benefits of multi-sport participation,” said MHSAA assistant director Cody Inglis, who has served as coordinator of the multi-sport task force. “So many student-athletes see great success on and off the field with their teams, teammates, friends and peers while also developing the lifelong lessons that sports done right provide. We continue to believe and know that student-athletes who are involved in multiple sports are more successful, benefit from the variety of sports and see huge long-term benefits.”
The MHSAA Task Force on Multi-Sport Participation also recommended measuring multi-sport participation in MHSAA member schools to recognize “achievers” – that is, schools that surpass the norm given their enrollment and other factors that affect school sports participation.
In Class A, Bay City Central (78.7) and Livonia Franklin (77.7) posted the highest percentages of multi-sport athletes in 2021-22, with Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (75.6) and Parma Western (75.4) also reaching 75 percent. In Class B, four schools achieved at least 80 percent multi-sport participation – Brooklyn Columbia Central (85.8), Detroit Southeastern (84.6), Warren Michigan Collegiate (84) and Durand (82.6).
Class C saw five schools with more than 80 percent of its athletes taking part in more than one sport: Brown City (95.7), Decatur (87.4), Niles Brandywine (85.6), Ishpeming Westwood (83.2) and Flint Beecher (80.4). Five Class D schools responded at higher than 90 percent multi-sport participation, with Coldwater Pansophia Academy and Kinross Maplewood Baptist both reporting 100 percent of their athletes played multiple sports. McBain Northern Michigan Christian (98.6), Ewen-Trout Creek (94.3) and Detroit Douglass (91.7) were the next highest on the Class D list.
A total of 10 schools have appeared among the top 10 percent in their respective classes for multi-sport participation three of the four years of the survey: Battle Creek Harper Creek, Detroit Cody, Gibraltar Carlson, Grand Rapids Northview, Hamtramck, New Baltimore Anchor Bay, Ovid-Elise, Warren Lincoln, Athens and Maplewood Baptist.
The full summary report on the Multi-Sport Participation Survey is available on the Multi-Sports Benefits page of the MHSAA Website.
After two school years requiring limited tournament attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021-22 school year saw a total of 1,327,633 fans attend Michigan High School Athletic Association postseason competitions for which attendance is recorded.
That total is 4.2 percent less than attendance during 2018-19 – the last school year before COVID-19 resulted in either the cancelation of championship events or lower spectator numbers due to restrictions in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Still, the 2021-22 spectator totals showed higher turnouts than their most recent restriction-free postseason in four sports, including records at two levels and overall for the MHSAA Baseball Tournament.
The MHSAA annually tracks attendance for all sports except golf, skiing and tennis – for which admission typically is not charged. The 2021-22 attendance totals included 889,155 fans for boys tournament events and 438,478 for girls postseasons. The girls spectatorship nearly reached its pre-COVID total, coming up just 2.3 percent short of 2018-19, while boys spectatorship was down 5.1 percent from that most recent restriction-free school year.
Baseball set a District attendance record this past spring with 35,649 fans, besting the record set just the season before, in 2021, of 34,484 spectators. Baseball also set a Quarterfinals record of 7,203 fans, with the previous record set during the 2013 season. The spectator total for the entire baseball postseason was 59,941 fans, which also bested a record set in 2021, this one by 5.3 percent.
Three more boys sports drew larger overall postseason crowds during 2021-22 than in their most recent restriction-free postseason. Ice Hockey drew 47,293 fans across its three playoff rounds, an increase of 12 percent from the 2019 playoffs, the most recent to be played to their completion before COVID-19. The hockey total was the highest since the 2017 postseason.
Boys soccer set a District record of 18,024 fans in Fall 2021, besting the previous record for that round set during the 1999 season. Soccer’s overall postseason attendance of 40,546 was its highest since setting a record of nearly 43,000 during the 2005 season.
The Individual Wrestling Tournament also saw an improvement from its most recent restriction-free postseason, drawing a total of 41,925 across its three tournament weekends – an increase of 2.7 percent from the 2020 season before crowd restrictions were put in place for 2021.
Football drew the most fans of any MHSAA postseason with 297,425. Boys basketball was the next most-attended sport with 279,255 fans at postseason games. Basketball was the most attended girls sport for postseason play with 141,448 spectators, with volleyball also reaching six figures at 113,572.
Joining baseball, four more spring tournaments returned from COVID-canceled 2020 to set overall attendance records in 2021 – girls soccer, girls lacrosse, boys lacrosse and girls and boys track & field (which is competed simultaneously). During the 2022 season, girls soccer was only 294 fans off its previous year’s record pace with 35,143 spectators. Girls and boys track & field drew 37,810 spectators this past spring – 4.8 percent off its 2021 record pace, but still its second-highest attendance since the MHSAA began tracking spectators with the 1990-91 school year. This spring’s boys lacrosse attendance of 15,743 was the second-highest since that sport began with MHSAA sponsorship in 2004-05.
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.