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.
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.