Despite declining enrollment, MHSAA participation increases in 2021-22

Published 7:06 pm Sunday, July 17, 2022

EAST LANSING — Participation in Michigan High School Athletic Association-sponsored sports rebounded tremendously during the 2021-22 school year, despite a slight decline in enrollment among the MHSAA’s 750-member high schools.

The onset of COVID-19 during the spring of 2020 was followed by a significant decline in participation in MHSAA sports during 2020-21. However, participation for the most recent school year concluding this spring saw an increase of 6.6 percent from 2020-21 to a total of 260,542 participants across the 28 sports for which the MHSAA sponsors postseason tournaments – even as statewide enrollment fell 0.76 percent to 440,728 students this past school year.

Girls participation increased 6.8 percent to 109,128 athletes, while boys participation was up 6.5 percent to 151,414. The overall MHSAA participation totals count students once for each sport in which they participate, meaning students who are multiple-sport athletes are counted more than once.

A total of 23 sports saw increases in participation during 2021-22 compared to 2020-21. Ten sports saw double-digit percentage increases, led boys track and field (27.2 percent to 22,120 participants), girls track and field (22.4 percent to 15,594 participants), and boys skiing (22.4 percent to 1,001 participants). Wrestling (17.1 percent) and boys bowling (16.2 percent) also saw double-digit increases, along with girls tennis (11.4 tennis), girls bowling (11.2 percent), girls competitive cheer (10.6 percent), boys golf (10.5 percent) and girls lacrosse (10 percent). Wrestling’s major boost came in part because of a nearly 300-percent increase in girls participants with 620 taking the mat for the first season of the MHSAA offering a girls championship division at its Individual Wrestling Finals.

Also enjoying increases in participation during 2021-22 from the previous year were girls golf (8.1 percent), girls skiing (7.6 percent), boys basketball (6.4 percent), girls soccer (6.3 percent), boys swimming and diving (6.1 percent), boys lacrosse (5.8 percent), softball (3.6 percent), girls basketball (3.1 percent), baseball (3.0 percent), boys tennis (2.8 percent), football (2.4 percent), girls volleyball (2.0 percent) and girls swimming and diving (1.2 percent).

Five sports saw decreased participation in 2021-22. The decline in boys soccer participation can be considered negligible, at only 0.21 percent with 28 fewer participants. Girls cross country (1.4 percent) and boys ice hockey participation (1.2 percent) decreases also were slight, with boys cross country next with a 3.9-percent decrease and girls gymnastics at 4.6 percent fewer participants than the previous school year.

Football, with a combined 33,284 participants over the 11 and 8-player formats, remained the most-played sport during the 2021-22 school year. Boys track & field (22,120) and boys basketball (20,017) were next for total participants, followed by girls volleyball (18,798) — the most popular girls sport — baseball (16,528) and girls track & field (15,594).

While the majority of sports are still building back to their pre-COVID participation totals, golf and skiing posted some of their highest totals in some time. Boys golf (6,829) had its most participants since 2012-13, and girls golf (3,875) its highest total since 2003-04. The boys skiing total (1,001) was its highest since 2002-03, and the girls skiing total this past season (837) was the highest for that sport since 1998-99.