By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Michigan had the eighth-most participants in high school sports nationally in 2016-17 according to statistics released this week by the National Federation of State High School Associations, after ranking seventh in participation the last eight school years.
However, this year’s level of participation again bested Michigan’s national ranking for total number of residents of high school age, which fell from ninth to 10th according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.
Michigan’s participation ranking was based on a number of 295,647, with 127,277 girls and 168,370 boys taking part in high school athletics, 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 ranked eighth nationally, down one spot from 2015-16, while the boys participation figure also ranked eighth, down from sixth the year before. However, as with overall population, Michigan ranks 10th for both females and males ages 14-17 according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates from 2016.
A total of 19 sports bested the state’s overall national participation ranking of eighth by placing seventh or higher on their respective lists. Three Michigan sports improved in national ranking during 2016-17, while five sports dropped one position and a sixth sport dropped two spots.
Michigan girls and boys golf both improved from sixth to fifth in national participation ranking, while girls basketball – with its first increase in participation after 10 straight years of decline – rose from seventh to sixth nationally. Michigan also moved up to seventh, from eighth, 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 for the fourth straight year.
Of the five sports that fell in national participation rankings in 2016-17, three stayed above population rank – boys basketball fell from sixth to seventh nationally, girls bowling from third to fourth and volleyball from fourth to sixth. Girls gymnastics (11th to 12th) and boys lacrosse (eighth to ninth) fell only one spot on their respective national lists.
The other Michigan sports that ranked eighth or higher all equaled their national rankings from 2015-16 and included baseball (eighth), boys bowling (third), competitive cheer (sixth), boys and girls cross country (both seventh), boys ice hockey (fourth), boys and girls skiing (both third), softball (seventh), boys tennis (fifth), girls tennis (third), boys track & field (seventh), girls track & field (eighth) and wrestling (seventh). Girls lacrosse (13th), boys and girls soccer (both ninth), boys swimming & diving (ninth) and girls swimming & diving (10th) all also held to their national rankings from the previous year.
National participation in high school sports in 2016-17 set a record for the 28th consecutive year with 7,963,535 participants – an increase of 94,635 from the year before. Girls participation increased for the 28th consecutive year with an additional 75,971 participants – the largest one-year jump since 2000-01 – and set an all-time high of 3,400,297. Boys participation also set another all-time high with 4,563,238, an increase of 18,664 participants from 2015-16.
Girls saw increases in all of their top-10 participatory sports, with competitive spirit (competitive cheer in Michigan) showing the largest increase of 18,712 participants nationally. Track & field, volleyball, soccer and lacrosse showed the next greatest increases among girls sports. Seven of the top 10 boys sports registered increases from 2015-16, led by soccer, track & field and cross country.
Football (1,086,748), while down two percent from 2015-16, again remained the most-played high school sport overall, followed by boys track & field (600,136), boys basketball (550,305), girls track & field (494,477) and baseball (492,935).
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.