By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
For the eighth straight year, Michigan ranked seventh nationally in high school sports participation, according to statistics for the 2015-16 school year released recently by the National Federation of State High School Associations. That level of participation continued to best Michigan’s national ranking for total number of residents of high school age, which remained ninth for the fourth consecutive year, and Michigan also again ranked ninth or higher in participation in 26 of 28 sports in which the Michigan High School Athletic Association conducts a postseason tournament.
Michigan’s participation ranking was based on a number of 295,436, with 126,160 girls and 169,276 boys taking part, and included sports in which the MHSAA 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 remained seventh nationally for the fifth consecutive year, while the boys participation figure continued to rank sixth. According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures from 2015, Michigan ranks ninth in both females and males ages 14 through 17.
For the second straight year, 13 sports bested the state’s overall national participation ranking of seventh by placing sixth or higher on their respective lists. Six Michigan sports improved in national ranking during 2015-16, while three sports dropped one position.
Michigan girls bowling, girls tennis and girls and boys skiing all improved from fourth to third in national participation ranking, while wrestling improved to seventh and gymnastics one spot to 11th. Michigan also moved up to eighth, from 11th, for 8-player football participation – significant because the state’s 11-player football participation ranking didn’t fall with that increase, remaining at sixth nationally.
The three sports that fell in national rankings in 2015-16 still remained above population rank – competitive cheer from fifth to sixth nationally, girls track & field one spot to eighth and baseball also from seventh to eighth on its list.
The other Michigan sports that ranked sixth or higher all equaled their national rankings from 2014-15 and included boys basketball at sixth, boys bowling third, boys golf and girls golf both sixth, ice hockey fourth, boys tennis fifth and girls volleyball fourth. Other Michigan sports that equaled their 2014-15 national rankings were girls basketball at seventh, boys and girls cross country both also seventh, boys lacrosse eighth, girls lacrosse 13th, boys and girls soccer both ninth, softball seventh, boys swimming & diving ninth, girls swimming & diving 10th and boys track & field also seventh.
National participation in high school sports in 2015-16 set a record for the 27th consecutive year with 7,868,900 participants – an increase of 61,853 from the year before. After a decline the previous year, boys participation increased about 25,000 to an all-time high of 4,544,574, while girls participation increased for the 27th consecutive year with an additional 36,591 participants and set an all-time high of 3,324,326.
Track and field registered the largest increase in participants nationally for both boys and girls, with an additional 12,501 boys and 7,243 girls. Track and field ranked second to football in boys participants with 591,133, and remained the most popular sport for girls with 485,969 participants. In addition to track and field, six other top-10 girls sports registered increases nationally in 2015-16, including volleyball, soccer, softball, cross country, tennis and lacrosse. After track and field among the top 10 boys sports, soccer registered the largest gain with an additional 7,753 participants, followed by cross country (up 6,710), basketball (up 4,949) and baseball (up 2,248).
Football (1,083,308) remained the most-played high school sport overall and enjoyed an encouraging development. After a decline of nearly 10,000 participants in football the previous year, the number of boys playing 11-player football nationally in 2015 was almost identical to 2014 with a drop of just 309 from the 2014 total of 1,083,617.
The Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association began examining several topics during its Fall Meeting, Dec. 1 in East Lansing – including start and end dates of the winter calendar, possible new transfer rule exceptions and emerging sports – that will shape its work during the winter and spring meetings of this 2023-24 school year.
Generally, the Council takes only a few actions during its Fall Meeting, with topics often introduced for additional consideration and action during its meetings in March and May. The Council did take three actions this time as part of larger conversations expected to continue over the next six months.
The Council joined staff discussion on the start and end dates of winter seasons and the possibility of moving up both, which was among topics surveyed as part of the Update Meeting poll completed by administrators during the MHSAA’s annual presentations across the state this fall. Staff will prepare a recommendation for Council to review at a future meeting regarding the 2025-26 school year and beyond.
MHSAA staff also provided a variety of transfer rule issues encountered over the last year, and Council discussed the possibility of adding transfer rule exceptions related to military transfer families, fulltime school employee transfers and students returning from a sports academy or prep school and seeking immediate eligibility. The Council did adopt a change for multi-high school districts (with at least three high schools) that include both boundary and non-boundary schools that more clearly defined where students at those schools have immediate eligibility.
The Council also discussed possible new and emerging sports, including proposals for MHSAA sponsorship received by the water polo and field hockey governing bodies and an anticipated proposal to add boys volleyball to the MHSAA Tournament lineup.
Several more conversations regarded MHSAA postseasons:
- The Council reviewed the work of the Football Task Force and considered a staff recommendation to have the Football Committee in January discuss possibly capping enrollment of Division 8 11-player schools at 250 students to incentivize schools within that group to play 11-player instead of switching to 8-player.
- MHSAA staff have identified four areas requiring financial increases – MHSAA Tournament officials fees, host schools compensations, manager honorariums and team reimbursements for Finals participants – and the Council discussed the importance of including these when the MHSAA Audit & Finance Committee meets in February to begin the 2024-25 budgetary process.
- The Council also discussed recommendations from the MHSAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee addressing possible requirements of emergency action plans and AEDs at MHSAA Tournament sites.
The Fall Meeting saw the appointment of Wyoming Godfrey-Lee Schools superintendent Arnetta Thompson and Freeland Middle School principal Jennifer Thunberg to two-year terms to the 19-person Council, the first terms for both. The Council also reelected Scott Grimes, superintendent for Grand Haven Area Public Schools, as its president; Brighton High School athletic director John Thompson as its vice president, and Vic Michaels, director of physical education and athletics for the Archdiocese of Detroit, as secretary-treasurer.
The Representative Council is the legislative body of the MHSAA. All but five members are elected by member schools. Four members are appointed by the Council to facilitate representation of females and minorities, and the 19th position is occupied by the Superintendent of Public Instruction or designee.
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.