Multi-Sport Survey Helps Set Benchmark

July 31, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

NOTE: This report includes a revision Aug. 3 to account for incorrect data for Jenison, which previously was listed with the second-highest percentage of multi-sport athletes in Class A. The updated data changed only two percentages updated below (*), and both by only one tenth of a percent.

Nearly 43 percent of athletes at Michigan High School Athletic Association member high schools participated in more than one sport during the 2017-18 school year, according to the first-ever Multi-Sport Participation Survey conducted this spring and inspired by the work of the MHSAA’s Task Force on Multi-Sport Participation.

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 the 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.

While there is a growing amount of research detailing the negative effects of early sport specialization, there is little research on the prevalence of sport specialization, including at the high school level. This MHSAA survey received responses from 79.9 percent of member high schools and will be conducted annually to measure how multi-sport participation exists at schools of different sizes and also the progress being made to increase it at all schools.

“It’s now well-known that students who specialize in one sport year-round are prone to all kinds of health hazards. This is serious business; we have to find out the ways and means to promote the multi-sport experience,” MHSAA Executive Director John E. “Jack” Roberts said. “This survey will help us identify best practices. If I’m an administrator, and another school of the same size and same demographics has twice the multi-sport participation as my school, I want to know why. What are they doing to encourage that culture?”

From schools that responded to this year’s survey, 42.5 percent of students participated in athletics in 2017-18 – 46.3 percent of boys and 38.7 percent of girls. As anticipated, Class D schools enjoyed the highest percentage of athletes among the entire student body, at 55.2 percent, followed by Class C (50.1), Class B (45.1) and Class A (39.1*).

Of those athletes counted by responding schools, 42.8 percent participated in more than one sport – including 44.6 percent of boys and 40.6 percent of girls. Class D again enjoyed the highest percentage of multi-sport athletes, 58.1 percent, followed by Class C (55.2), Class B (46.7) and Class A (35.9*).

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.

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. An achievement program is being developed for future years, and this year’s survey results will assist in setting a benchmark for that recognition.

In Class A, Marquette (82.6 percent), Grand Rapids Union (74.1) and Holland West Ottawa (74.0) posted the highest percentages of multi-sport athletes. In Class B, four schools achieved at least 80 percent multi-sport participation – Birch Run (87.1), Gladstone (83.8), Clawson (81.0) and Shepherd (80).

Class C saw 13 schools with more than 80 percent of its athletes taking part in more than one sport, led by Ubly (90.2 percent) and Detroit Southeastern (89.2). Four Class D schools responded at higher than 90 percent multi-sport participation – Brethren (95.4), DeTour (94.3), Jackson Christian (91.7) and Waterford Our Lady (90.8).

The full summary report on the Multi-Sport Participation Survey is available on the “Health & Safety” page of the MHSAA Website.

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.