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.
A pair of milestones will be celebrated by the Michigan High School Athletic Association during this year’s Women In Sports Leadership Conference, to be presented Sunday, Oct. 9, and Monday, Oct. 10 at Crowne Plaza Lansing West for 600 participants, most of them high school female student-athletes from across the state.
A theme of “Power of the Past – Force of the Future” will recall opportunities created during the 50 years since the enactment of Title IX in 1972. This also will be the 25th WISL Conference, which remains the first, largest and longest-running program of its type in the country.
This year’s edition again will feature three keynote speakers and a variety of workshops. The opening address will be delivered by Ashley Baker, who serves as the chief diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) officer at Michigan State University. Baker, originally from Pontiac, earned bachelor and master’s degrees from Bowling Green State University and a doctorate in sport management and policy from the University of Georgia. She came to MSU in December 2020 from Xavier University (Louisiana) where she most recently had served as assistant vice president for student affairs and chief inclusion officer/deputy Title IX coordinator.
First-year Spartans softball coach Sharonda McDonald-Kelley will speak during the Oct. 9 evening general session. She coached Campbell University (N.C.) to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and was a four-time all-Big 12 selection as a player at Texas A&M, appearing in the College World Series before playing professionally for seven years. McDonald-Kelley was named Big South Conference Coach of the Year in 2021, and previously also coached professionally and as associate head coach at Texas Tech University after serving as an assistant for multiple prestigious college programs.
University of Michigan women’s basketball coach Kim Barnes-Arico will speak during the morning session Oct. 10. She led the Wolverines last season to their first NCAA Tournament Elite Eight and is nearing 500 career victories, having won a U-M program-record 218 during her 10 seasons. She’s a two-time Big Ten Conference Coach of Year and was a semifinalist this past season for the Werner Ladder Naismith Coach of the Year honor. Michigan is her fifth college coaching stop; she came to Ann Arbor after 10 seasons at St. John’s. She played basketball one season at Stony Brook University (N.Y.) and then her final three including two as captain at Montclair State University (N.J.).
Workshops offered during the WISL Conference include topics on coaching, teaching and learning leadership; sports nutrition and performance, and injury prevention; and empowerment and goal-setting. Presenters are accomplished in their fields and represent a wide range of backgrounds in sport.
A complete itinerary is available on the MHSAA Website.
The Oct. 9 evening general session also will include recognition for the 2022 Women In Sports Leadership Award winner – recently-retired Livonia Stevenson athletic director Lori Hyman. A basketball standout at MSU during the second half of the 1970s, Hyman went on to coach college basketball for 17 years and then serve as a highly-regarded athletic director for 27 years including the last 22 at her alma mater Stevenson.