By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
MHSAA tournament events posted an increase in attendance for the second straight school year in 2016-17, drawing 1,492,469 fans – with eight boys sports enjoying larger audiences that the previous year.
Total attendance rose sixth-tenths (0.6) of a percent from 2015-16 to its highest total since 2010-11. Boys attendance rose to 1,034,625 (or 1.2 percent) to its highest total since 2011-12. Girls attendance was 457,844, continuing a trend that has seen the last three school years post the largest audiences for girls tournament events since the MHSAA began annually tracking data in 1990-91. Attendance is kept for all sports except golf, skiing and tennis, for which admission typically is not charged.
The second straight boys increase was keyed in part by a pair of records. Baseball drew 50,820 fans, breaking the previous record set during the 2009 season while also seeing a record turnout at the District level. Boys lacrosse, with 11,211 total attendance, broke the previous record set in 2010.
The boys basketball tournament, with 330,588 fans, enjoyed its highest turnout since 2010-11. Football attendance rose for the second straight year with 395,894 fans total, enjoying single-round increases at the Pre-District, District and Regional levels. Ice hockey, with 51,812 fans, also saw an increase from 2015-16, as did the boys swimming & diving tournament with 5,694 fans – its highest overall attendance since 2010-11.
Three more records contributed to the overall increase in 2016-17. Softball drew 47,364 fans total, breaking the previous record set in 1994-95. The bowling and cross country tournaments, which both include girls and boys competing at the same sites, both set records as well – bowling with 14,012 fans overall to set a record for the second straight year, and cross country with 20,671 fans, its most since 2011-12.
Two more girls sports also enjoyed increased attendance from 2015-16. The girls lacrosse tournament drew 5,691 fans, a 29 percent increase from the year before and with a record at the Regional level. Girls soccer drew 28,203 fans with increases at the District, Regional and Semifinal levels; the overall attendance was a 3.9 percent increase and the highest since the record 2006-07 season.
Also of note:
• Although girls basketball overall attendance was down half a percent to 168,674, both the Quarterfinals and Semifinal-Finals rounds saw increases from the previous season. The Semifinal-Finals weekend drew 24,120 fans, the most since the record was set for those rounds combined during the 1996 fall season (girls basketball moved from fall to winter beginning with the 2007-08 season.
• The boys basketball attendance increase was bolstered in part by the highest Semifinal-Finals weekend attendance (53,990) since 2008-09 and an increase that weekend of 14 percent from 2015-16.
• Boys Soccer Districts were watched by 15,048 fans, the most since 2008-09, and individual wrestling also enjoyed a bounce-back at its earliest rounds with a three-year high at the District level (10,792 fans) and a six-year high (8,488) at the Regional level.
• Girls gymnastics Regionals (1,146) drew their largest audience since 2002-03, while competitive cheer Regionals (7,333) enjoyed a nine-year high.
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.