It is far from a rare occasion that the Michigan High School Athletic Association receives correspondence from a constituent – and most frequently from students – to provide an MHSAA-sponsored and conducted tournament for a sport they love, but which is not yet among the 14 sports for girls and 14 for boys which the MHSAA currently serves and supports with a statewide tournament.
The most recent additions to MHSAA tournament sports were boys and girls bowling and boys and girls lacrosse tournaments during the 2004-05 school year. In each case the MHSAA joined a small list of states with tournaments in those sports and quickly became one of the leading states in terms of the number of sponsoring schools and participating students, even as the sports spread to an increasing number of states across the U.S.
In neither case has the assimilation of the sport been problem-free. Lacrosse has struggled with travel limitations, and bowling with rules related to amateur status. Lacrosse has experienced issues related to game officials, and bowling has had to overcome venue challenges.
At the end of each school year the MHSAA asks its member high schools to report what sports they officially sponsored on a competitive interscholastic basis and how many students participated. This is one of the indicators of what might be added next to the lineup of MHSAA tournament sports. The most popular non-MHSAA tournament sports on last year’s survey (2015-16) were as follows:
For girls . . .
Equestrian (148 schools)
Weightlifting (62 schools)
Indoor Track & Field (34 schools)
Water Polo (32 schools)
Field Hockey (29 schools)
Crew (23 schools)
For boys . . .
Weightlifting (78 schools)
Equestrian (52 schools)
Indoor Track & Field (32 schools)
Water Polo (29 schools)
Crew (22 schools)
MHSAA policy advises the Representative Council to consider serving and supporting sports that are sponsored by 64 or more member high schools. It’s always a two-way street. Do those involved in the sport desire an MHSAA tournament and all the services and restraints that entails, and does the Representative Council believe the MHSAA can provide unique and necessary guidance and assistance? That mutual agreement occurred with bowling and lacrosse; it did not occur with equestrian; and there have been no conversations as yet regarding weightlifting.
We know that MHSAA tournament sponsorship gives a sport a bump – it leads to more schools sponsoring the sport. We know that students benefit – and with that, so does society – when schools provide a broad array of sports with which to engage students. But we also know there are limits – time, money, facilities, personnel – which are local realities that moderate our idealism.