MHSAA participation rises to 4-year high

EAST LANSING – While enrollment in Michigan High School Athletic Association member high schools saw another slight dip in 2017-18, participation in the 28 sports for which the MHSAA sponsors postseason tournaments rose to its highest point since 2013- 14.

A total of 284,920 participants competed in MHSAA-sponsored sports this past school year, up 0.46 percent from 2016-17 – and despite a one percent drop in enrollment at member schools during that time. The overall MHSAA participation totals count students once for each sport in which they participate, meaning students who are multiplesport athletes are counted more than once.

Girls’ participation rose for the third straight year to 121,349 participants, up 1.2 percent from 2016-17 and despite a 1.1 percent enrollment drop over the last year. Boys’ participation fell to 163,571 participants, a decrease of less than a tenth of a percent from the previous year – and much smaller than the boys’ enrollment decrease of nearly a full percent.

Girls’ lacrosse has set a participation record every season since becoming a sponsored tournament sport in 2005, and did so this spring with 2,900 participants – a 3.1 percent increase from a year ago. Boys’ lacrosse also set a record for the second year in a row, up 1.1 percent with 5,168 participants. Both boys and girls bowling broke records previously set in 2015-16 – boys bowling participation increased 8.4 percent over 2016-17 with 4,136 participants, while girls bowling was up 4.5 percent with 3,058 athletes. Also setting a record in 2017-18 was boys cross country, which saw record participation for the second straight season last fall with 9,656 runners (an increase of 2.6 percent).

The largest percentage increase in participation this school year came in girls’ gymnastics, which jumped 10.4 percent with 702 athletes – its most since 2011-12. Girls’ golf also enjoyed a notable increase, up 4.2 percent to 3,712 athletes – its highest participation total since 2007-08.

Six sports total saw increases in participation on both the girls’ and boys’ sides. In addition to bowling and lacrosse, girls cross country joined the record-setting boys with a 2.4 percent increase. Girls and boys swimming and diving both enjoyed increases for the second straight year, this time both by 2.4 percent. Girls’ tennis was up 2.3 percent to its highest total (9,123) since 2012- 13, and boys’ tennis participation increased by one percent. Boys track & field (1.5 percent) increased for the third straight year, while girls track & field (1.6 percent) was up for the second consecutive.

Volleyball led participation among girls sports with 19,416 participants, up 1.8 percent from 2016-17. Other sports to see increases in 2017-18 were girls skiing, up 2.8 percent as participation increased for the second straight season; boys basketball, up a half percent; and girls soccer, which had four more athletes this spring than during the 2017 season.

Also of note in this year’s survey:

• The increase in participation for 18 sports during 2017-18 was compared to an increase in 16 sports for 2016-17 and 15 sports in 2015- 16.

• Of 10 sports that saw decreases in participation in 2017-18, five were down less than a percent. Competitive cheer had five fewer athletes but 6,715 total, and there were three fewer boys golfers to take that total to 2,267. Boys skiing was down six athletes total to 831, while boys soccer was down 11 athletes and girls softball down 31 – both less than a quarter of a percent off their 2016-17 totals.

• Football experienced a much smaller decrease in participation last season than it had from 2015-16 to 2016-17, falling only 1.9 percent to 37,002 athletes – still the most participating in any sport by more than 13,000 athletes. The combined number of 11 and 8-player varsity teams sponsored by MHSAA schools last fall remained constant compared to recent seasons, although a shift of some programs from 11-player to 8-player continued.

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 – – by clicking on Schools > Administrators > Sports Participation Listing.

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