Participation Rises in 2015-16

June 30, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

Despite another slight decline in enrollment at Michigan High School Athletic Association member high schools for the 2015-16 school year, participation in sports rose for the first time since 2010-11 as a total of 284,227 participants took part in the 28 sports for which postseason tournaments are sponsored by the MHSAA.

This year’s 0.71 percent dip in enrollment at member schools is the latest in a steady decrease that has seen enrollment fall nearly 12 percent total since 2006-07; however, participation in MHSAA-sponsored sports was up 0.57 percent over 2014-15. A total of 15 sports saw participation increases from the school year before, with boys and girls bowling, boys cross country and girls lacrosse setting records.

Girls participation was up 1.7 percent to 119,281 participants, despite a fall in girls enrollment of sixth tenths of a percent. Boys participation did fall a slight two tenths of a percent, to 164,946 participants, but boys enrollment fell eighth tenths of a percent from the previous school year. The overall MHSAA totals count students once for each sport in which they participate, meaning students who are multiple-sport athletes are counted more than once. 

Girls lacrosse continued its streak of setting a participation record every season since becoming a sponsored tournament sport in 2005, this time with a 7.2 increase in participation to 2,775 athletes. Boys bowling saw a 3.7 percent increase this season to a record total of 3,860 athletes, while girls bowling was up 2.6 percent for a record total of 3,047. Boys cross country set a record for the second time in three seasons, this time up 5.3 percent with 9,254 runners.

A number of sports experienced bounce-backs from decreases over recent years. Boys basketball (0.5 percent increase to 21,524 athletes) was up after two straight years of decreases, while girls softball (5.2 percent increase to 13,788 athletes) was up after four straight years of lowering numbers. Boys track & field had seen participation decrease six straight seasons before bouncing back 1.6 percent this spring with 22,803 athletes, and wrestling also came back from six straight seasons of decreases with a 1.3 percent increase to 9,601 athletes. Girls volleyball just edged girls lacrosse for the largest increase of any MHSAA-sponsored sport in 2015-16, jumping 7.8 percent with 19,395 athletes after three straight seasons of declining participation.

Other sports with increased participation in 2015-16 were girls cross country (0.6 percent to 8,403 athletes), girls golf (3.8 percent to 3,460), girls gymnastics (3.2 percent to 638), boys soccer (1.0 percent to 14,574), girls soccer (0.3 percent to 13,367) and girls tennis (0.5 percent to 8,675).

However, a few troubling trends did continue. Girls basketball participation fell for the 10th straight season, this time nearly a percent to 15,558 athletes, the sport’s lowest total since records first were kept in 1991-92. The latest decrease brings the total fall in participation to 18.7 percent in that sport since a U.S. District Court decision led to the switching of girls basketball season from fall to winter beginning in 2007-08. Comparatively, girls enrollment at MHSAA schools during that time has fallen 12.1 percent. Although volleyball, the sport that swapped seasons with girls basketball and moved to fall, saw a large increase in 2015-16, its total number of athletes still was the third-lowest for the sport since 1993-94 and its participation is still down 10 percent since the seasons changed.

Also of note in this year’s survey:

• The increase in participation for 15 sports with a decrease in 13 was compared to an increase for only eight and decrease for 20 in 2014-15. Those increases and decreases were split evenly across boys and girls sports last school year; this school year, six boys sports were up and eight were down in participation, while nine girls sports were up and only five saw decreases.

•  For the second straight year, a slight decrease in football participation fell in line with the slight decrease in boys enrollment after larger drops previously. Football participation was down 1.4 percent for the second straight year (and slowed this time a few hundredths of a percent, from 1.44 in 2014-15 to 1.42). The drop in football participation from 2011-12 to 2012-13 was 3.7 percent, and the drop from 2012-13 to 2013-14 was two percent.

•  Skiing saw the largest combined decrease among pairs of related sports, with boys participation down 7.2 percent to 719 and girls down 2.8 percent to 652 after both experienced increases a year ago. Swimming & diving experienced decreases for both girls and boys together for the second straight year, although this time the decreases were smaller than in 2014-15; girls were down 4.3 percent to 5,378 athletes and boys were down 4.2 percent to 4,732.

•  Boys golf participation fell for the seventh straight season, four percent to 6,271 athletes, its lowest total on record. Boys tennis experienced its seventh straight decrease to 6,077 athletes, also the lowest total on record for that sport and a dip of 3.6 percent from 2014-15.

•  Baseball, after three straight seasons of increases, was down just less than a percent this spring. Boys lacrosse, after setting a participation record in 2013-14, was down for the second straight year but this time by only six athletes, or one tenth of a percent. Girls track & field was down for the second straight year, by 1.5 percent, after three straight of increases.

The participation figures are gathered annually from MHSAA member schools to submit to the National Federation of State High School Associations for compiling of its national participation survey. Results of Michigan surveys from the 2000-01 school year to present may be viewed on the MHSAA Website.

The following chart shows participation figures for the 2015-16 school year from MHSAA member schools for sports in which the Association sponsors a postseason tournament:

























Competitive Cheer





Cross Country





Football - 11 player




















Ice Hockey




















Softball-Fast Pitch





Swimming & Diving










Track & Field - Outdoor















(A) The first number is the number of schools reporting sponsorship on the Sports Participation Survey. The second number indicates schools sponsoring the sport including primary and secondary schools in cooperative programs as of May 7, 2016. The third number indicates the number of schools that had girls playing on teams consisting primarily of boys.

(B)The second number indicates the number of additional girls playing on teams consisting primarily of boys and entered in boys competition.

The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,400 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. 

Rep Council Considers Several Topics During Fall Meeting for 2023-24 Work

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

December 7, 2023

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.