By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Michigan had the eighth-most participants in high school sports nationally for the second straight year in 2017-18 according to statistics recently released by the National Federation of State High School Associations, again outpacing the state’s national ranking of 10th for total number of residents of high school age.
Michigan’s participation ranking was based on a number of 296,625, with 127,098 girls and 169,527 boys taking part in high school athletics, and included sports in which the Michigan High School Athletic Association does not conduct postseason tournaments. The totals count students once for each sport in which he or she participates, meaning students who are multiple-sport athletes are counted more than once.
The state’s girls participation ranked eighth nationally for the second straight year, while the boys participation figure improved to seventh, up one spot from 2016-17. However, as with overall population, Michigan continued to rank 10th for both females and males ages 14-17 according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates from 2017.
A total of 19 sports bested the state’s overall national participation ranking of eighth by placing seventh or higher on their respective lists. Four Michigan sports improved in national ranking during 2017-18, while the state fell one spot in the rankings of three sports.
The most substantial improvement among Michigan sports came in girls volleyball, where Michigan moved up two spots to fourth – the same ranking it occupied for 2014-15 and 2015-16 before falling to sixth on the list a year ago. Competitive cheer rose one spot in the competitive spirit ranking to fifth, while girls swimming & diving moved up one spot to ninth and girls gymnastics moved up one position to 11th on its ranking list.
Two of three sports that fell on participation lists still outpaced Michigan’s overall participation rank – boys golf and boys tennis both fell from fifth to sixth, respectively. Girls lacrosse participation fell to 14th after five straight years ranking 13th nationally.
Other Michigan sports that ranked eighth or higher in 2017-18 were baseball (eighth), girls basketball (sixth), boys basketball (seventh), girls bowling (fourth), boys bowling (third), girls and boys cross country (both seventh), 11 and 8-player football (sixth and seventh, respectively), girls golf (fifth), boys ice hockey (fourth), girls and boys skiing (both third), girls softball (seventh), girls tennis (third), girls track & field (eighth), boys track & field (seventh) and boys wrestling (seventh).
Boys lacrosse, boys and girls soccer and boys swimming & diving participation all slotted ninth on their respective lists, holding to their 2016-17 rankings and placing still ahead of where Michigan slotted for high school-aged population. The football rankings were again notable in that Michigan slotted sixth for 11-player participation for the sixth straight year despite another sizable increase in the number of schools switching to the 8-player format.
National participation in high school sports in 2017-18 set a record for the 29th consecutive year with 7,979,986 participants – an increase of 16,451 from the year before. Girls participation increased for the 29th consecutive year with an additional 15,009 participants to set an all-time high of 3,415,306. Boys participation also set another all-time high with 4,564,680, an increase of 1,442 participants from 2016-17.
For the second consecutive year, competitive spirit (competitive cheer in Michigan) had the largest increase among girls sports with an additional 18,426 participants. Swimming and diving, lacrosse and golf showed the next greatest increases among girls sports. Boys soccer registered the largest gain among boys sports with 6,128 additional participants, followed by cross country.
Football (1,067,970) was down 1.7 percent from 2016-17, but again remained the most-played high school sport overall – and nationally, the number of schools sponsoring the sport increased 29 to 15,486. Boys track & field (600,097), boys basketball (551,373), girls track & field (488,492) and baseball (487,097) again rounded out the top five sports by participation, in that order.
With the first girls basketball games, wrestling matches and ski races joining the event schedule this week, an estimated 65,000 athletes will be competing across the 13 sports for which the Michigan High School Athletic Association sponsors postseason tournaments.
Girls basketball tipped off Monday, Dec. 4, and the first boys and girls wrestling meets may take place Wednesday, Dec. 6. The first girls and boys ski races may begin Saturday, Dec. 9, when they will join competition already underway in boys basketball, girls and boys bowling, girls competitive cheer, girls gymnastics, boys ice hockey, Upper Peninsula girls swimming & diving, and boys swimming & diving across both peninsulas.
The MHSAA winter schedule concludes this 2023-24 school year with the Girls Basketball Finals on March 23. This will be the first time since 2018-19 that the girls basketball tournament will finish the winter season, a switch made necessary by the start of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament March 22-23 and the possibility Michigan State University could host first-round games at the Breslin Center, where the MHSAA plays both its girls and boys basketball Semifinals and Finals.
Three more sports will incorporate changes this season related to MHSAA Tournament format or qualification.
For girls and boys bowling, Regionals will be conducted at eight sites – instead of the previous six – with each site qualifying to Finals its top two team finishers and the top seven singles for both girls and boys competitions. For the Team Bowling Finals, match play has been switched to a head-to-head, best-of-five Baker game format, whereas previously the format included regular games rolled by individual bowlers.
In girls gymnastics, an addition to criteria is expected to classify gymnasts more accurately as Division 1 (most skilled/experienced) or Division 2 for MHSAA Tournament individual competition. Athletes who have previously competed in a non-school event at either the Sapphire or Diamond Xcel levels would be required to compete at the Division 1 level for MHSAA postseason competition. These designations were added to other criteria used to determine an individual competitor’s division.
A change that led to much larger event fields at the Lower Peninsula Girls Swimming & Diving Finals this fall is expected to produce the same at the LP Boys Swimming & Diving Finals this winter. Beginning this season, qualifying times have been determined based on the past five years of MHSAA race data, but also accounting for past numbers of qualifiers in each swim race – which should, as with the girls, allow for more boys to advance to the Finals in events where fields have not been full over the previous five seasons.
Additionally, the Competitive Cheer Finals will return to its traditional Friday-Saturday schedule, March 1-2 at McGuirk Arena at Central Michigan University, with Division 1 on Friday and Divisions 2-4 on Saturday.
This regular season, wrestlers have two more opportunities to compete. Teams are allowed two more dual meets (between two teams only, not to be converted into three or four-team meets), bringing the total allowed days of competition to 16 with no more than eight of those allowed for tournament-type events where a wrestler competes more than twice.
At those tournament-type events, wrestlers may now compete in up to six matches on one day of competition (as opposed to the previous five matches per day) – but an athlete may not wrestle in more than 10 matches over two consecutive days.
An adjustment to the awarding of free throws in basketball is likely to be the most noticeable in-game change for any winter sport this season. One-and-one free throws have been eliminated, and fouls no longer will be totaled per half. Instead, fouls are totaled and reset every quarter, and two free throws are awarded with the fifth foul of each quarter.
The 2023-24 Winter campaign culminates with postseason tournaments, as the championship schedule begins with the Upper Peninsula Girls & Boys Swimming & Diving Finals on Feb. 17 and wraps up with the Girls Basketball Finals on March 23. Here is a complete list of winter tournament dates:
Districts – Feb. 26, 28, March 1
Regionals – March 5, 7
Quarterfinals – March 12
Semifinals – March 14-15
Finals – March 16
Districts – March 4, 6, 8
Regionals – March 11, 13
Quarterfinals – March 19
Semifinals – March 21-22
Finals – March 23
Regionals – Feb. 23-24
Finals – March 1-2
Districts – Feb. 16-17
Regionals – Feb. 24
Finals – March 1-2
Regionals – March 2
Finals – March 8-9
Regionals – Feb. 19-28
Quarterfinals – March 2
Semifinals – March 7-8
Finals – March 9
Regionals – Feb. 12-16
Finals – Feb. 26
Swimming & Diving
Upper Peninsula Girls/Boys Finals – Feb. 17
Lower Peninsula Boys Diving Regionals – Feb. 29
Lower Peninsula Boys Finals – March 8-9
Wrestling – Team
Districts – Feb. 7-8
Regionals – Feb. 14
Finals – Feb. 23-24
Wrestling – Individual
Districts – Feb. 10
Boys Regionals – Feb. 17
Girls Regionals – Feb. 18
Finals – March 1-2
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.