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. 

2023 Forsythe Award Celebrates Leinaar's 40 Years Dedicated to School Sports

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 8, 2023

Few people in Michigan have had a longer-lasting influence on the rules and policies of educational athletics than Frankfort’s Karen Leinaar, who has served in several roles locally, statewide and nationally over more than 40 years contributing to the school sports community.

Thank you, Bill Baker.

The longtime teacher, coach, principal and superintendent during a career that stretched across multiple schools – including Leinaar’s growing up, Delton Kellogg – made an impression on the standout multi-sport athlete before she graduated from high school in 1977. Baker’s philosophy and work led Leinaar to study education at Michigan State University and then brought her back as Delton’s athletic director to begin four decades of making the same impact on children in her hometown and eventually in hometowns all over Michigan and beyond.

Baker died in 2009, but not before continuing to mentor Leinaar through many good times and tough ones.

“The man had two daughters that I grew up with, his wife was a teacher, and he demonstrated to all of us – he never missed an event – that we were important to him. That even though we weren’t his kids, we were his kids and athletics was a way to help kids become better people – and for some kids it was the only thing that they had positive in their life,” Leinaar said. “And he made it known just to that individual kid how important their participation was and their involvement, and how that helped them become the person that they were.

“That to me was such an example of how to help people be good people, that I just took that role on.”

It’s a role in which she continues to serve. Leinaar began her career as an athletic administrator in 1982, and as the interim athletic director currently at Frankfort High School is serving her fifth district in that position. Since June 2019, she also has served as executive director of the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA), the professional organization for school sports administrators in the state with a membership of nearly 700.

Leinaar accepts the MHSAA's Women In Sports Leadership Award in 1998. To recognize that longtime and continuing impact, Leinaar has been named the 2023 honoree for the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Charles E. Forsythe Award.

The annual award is in its 46th year and named after former MHSAA Executive Director Charles E. Forsythe, the Association's first full-time and longest-serving chief executive. Forsythe Award recipients are selected each year by the MHSAA Representative Council, based on an individual's outstanding contributions to the interscholastic athletics community.

Leinaar also served 22 years on the MHSAA’s Representative Council and a four-year term from 2009-13 on the Board of Directors for the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), and just last week was named to the 2023 class of the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) Hall of Fame.

“It is impossible even to estimate the number of students, coaches, administrators and others who have been affected by the work Karen Leinaar has done to make school sports the best they can be – not only in her communities, but across Michigan and throughout the country,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “There are few who have equaled her dedication and her support and promotion of the ideals of school-based sports. She has always placed an emphasis on being in the room, on the field or at the arena, actively participating in her leadership roles, and our programs are better for it.”

Leinaar first served as athletic director at Delton Kellogg for nearly 17 years, from March 1982 through October 1998. She spent three years at Gaylord, then 8½ at Benzie Central before taking over at Bear Lake in November 2010 and spending the next decade organizing athletic programs for students in grades 5-12 before retiring in January 2021. She came out of retirement to return to the athletic director’s chair this past fall as interim AD at Frankfort. She has completed nearly four years as MIAAA executive director, moving into that position after previously serving nine years as an assistant to the executive.

Leinaar began her service on the Representative Council in Fall 1999 and completed her last term as a statewide at-large representative at the Fall 2021 meeting.

She has been honored several times for her contributions. She received the MHSAA’s Women In Sports Leadership Award in 1998, a Citation from the NFHS in 2000, and she was named MIAAA Athletic Director of the Year in 2001. She received an MHSAA’s Allen W. Bush Award in 2014 – recognition given for work done generally behind the scenes and with little attention.

“This is the top of the mountain, per se. This one does mean so much,” Leinaar said of the Forsythe Award. “The names that are associated with this over the years, I never thought I’d be put in that group.”

Leinaar remains a continuous source of support at a multitude of MHSAA championship events, and during her time on Council was one of the most frequent representatives handing out trophies and medals to champions and runners-up at Finals events. She began while athletic director at Delton Kellogg hosting the MHSAA Volleyball Finals in Class B and Class C and continues to assist with those championships now played at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek.

She also hosted Competitive Cheer Finals at Delton Kellogg in 1996 and 1997, Ski Finals while at Gaylord, and many more championship events across the Lower Peninsula. She continues to assist at the MHSAA’s Lower Peninsula Cross Country and Track & Field Finals.

After attending Delton Kellogg High School, Leinaar earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education, health and recreation, with a minor in driver education, from MSU in 1982. She completed a master’s in athletic administration from Western Michigan University in 1994.

Leinaar has been a member for 40 years of both the MIAAA and NIAAA, and has served as chairperson of the MIAAA Annual Conference and awards chairperson for both the state and national bodies. She’s also served as chairperson of the MIAAA’s Exemplary Athletic Program.

Past recipients of the Charles E. Forsythe Award 

1978 - Brick Fowler, Port Huron; Paul Smarks, Warren 
1979 - Earl Messner, Reed City; Howard Beatty, Saginaw 
1980 - Max Carey, Freesoil 
1981 - Steven Sluka, Grand Haven; Samuel Madden, Detroit
1982 - Ernest Buckholz, Mt. Clemens; T. Arthur Treloar, Petoskey
1983 - Leroy Dues, Detroit; Richard Maher, Sturgis 
1984 - William Hart, Marquette; Donald Stamats, Caro
1985 - John Cotton, Farmington; Robert James, Warren 
1986 - William Robinson, Detroit; Irving Soderland, Norway 
1987 - Jack Streidl, Plainwell; Wayne Hellenga, Decatur 
1988 - Jack Johnson, Dearborn; Alan Williams, North Adams
1989 - Walter Bazylewicz, Berkley; Dennis Kiley, Jackson 
1990 - Webster Morrison, Pickford; Herbert Quade, Benton Harbor 
1991 - Clifford Buckmaster, Petoskey; Donald Domke, Northville 
1992 - William Maskill, Kalamazoo; Thomas G. McShannock, Muskegon 
1993 - Roy A. Allen Jr., Detroit; John Duncan, Cedarville 
1994 - Kermit Ambrose, Royal Oak 
1995 - Bob Perry, Lowell 
1996 - Charles H. Jones, Royal Oak 
1997 - Michael A. Foster, Richland; Robert G. Grimes, Battle Creek 
1998 - Lofton C. Greene, River Rouge; Joseph J. Todey, Essexville 
1999 - Bernie Larson, Battle Creek 
2000 - Blake Hagman, Kalamazoo; Jerry Cvengros, Escanaba 
2001 - Norm Johnson, Bangor; George Lovich, Canton 
2002 - John Fundukian, Novi 
2003 - Ken Semelsberger, Port Huron
2004 - Marco Marcet, Frankenmuth
2005 - Jim Feldkamp, Troy
2006 - Dan McShannock, Midland; Dail Prucka, Monroe
2007 - Keith Eldred, Williamston; Tom Hickman, Spring Lake
2008 - Jamie Gent, Haslett; William Newkirk, Sanford Meridian
2009 - Paul Ellinger, Cheboygan
2010 - Rudy Godefroidt, Hemlock; Mike Boyd, Waterford
2011 - Eric C. Federico, Trenton
2012 - Bill Mick, Midland
2013 - Jim Gilmore, Tecumseh; Dave Hutton, Grandville
2014 - Dan Flynn, Escanaba

2015 - Hugh Matson, Saginaw
2016 - Gary Hice, Petoskey; Gina Mazzolini, Lansing
2017 - Chuck Nurek, Rochester Hills
2018 - Gary Ellis, Allegan
2019 - Jim Derocher, Negaunee; Fredrick J. Smith, Stevensville
2020 - Michael Garvey, Lawton
2021 - Leroy Hackley Jr., Byron Center; Patti Tibaldi, Traverse City
2022 - Bruce Horsch, Houghton

PHOTOS (Top) Karen Leinaar, left, awards the 2022 Division 4 volleyball finalist trophy to Indian River Inland Lakes coach Nicole Moore. (Middle) Leinaar accepts the MHSAA's Women In Sports Leadership Award in 1998.