The Midwest is a hotbed for sports, whether you’re talking about playing or watching the games, which makes sense since the region is home to some of the most famous sports teams in the world. The Midwest boasts prominent college sports programs like Iowa wrestling, Kansas basketball, and Minnesota ice hockey, not to mention famous and successful pro teams like the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, and the Green Bay Packers, now sans Aaron Rodgers.
Let’s take a look at what the numbers say about the most popular Midwest sports.
Football is the Midwest Sports Winner
As in the rest of the United States, football is the most popular Midwest sport by almost any metric. It’s the most-watched sport in nearly every state, according to U.S. research firm Gallup. High school participation numbers show that football is also the most-played boy’s sport in the majority of the Midwest.
The Gallup numbers show that professional football is most popular with residents of the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Meanwhile, the rabid fan bases of the Cornhuskers, Hawkeyes, and Cyclones mean that college football is preferred by residents of Nebraska and Iowa.
Across the Midwest, places like D1 Training in Des Moines aim to keep growing the sport and encouraging young football players to hone their skills. D1’s Apex Football Academy offers football training for athletes of all ages, overseen by a former NFL player.
Basketball is a Close Second in the Midwest
While football may be king, the Midwest is the spiritual home of another sport — basketball. James Naismith, the man who invented basketball, became the first head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks in 1898. Kansas was one of the first states where the sport was played at the college level. Perhaps not surprisingly, Kansas is one of the few states where basketball actually outpaces football as the most-watched sport.
The number of high school students playing basketball is relatively high across the Midwest as well. Minnesota, Kansas, and South Dakota all have large numbers of girls and boys playing the sport at the high school level. And North Dakota is the only state in the nation where basketball participation outpaces football participation among boys.
Midwest Basketball Training
If you’re looking to perfect your jump shot or tighten your handle, Midwest Basketball Training is just one example of the type of basketball training facilities available across the region. This facility, located in Brooklyn Park, MN, offers individual and team training opportunities for youth and high school ballers in Minnesota and beyond.
Baseball Fills the Stadiums Once Again
The passion for “America’s pastime” may not be quite as high across the country as it once was. But try telling that to the residents of the show-me state. Missouri is one of the few places in the U.S. where baseball remains the most popular sport to watch, based on the previously mentioned Gallup survey. Missourians’ dedication to the local St. Louis Cardinals is virtually unmatched!
But Missouri residents don’t just watch baseball. They’re in the batter’s box and on the diamond as well. Missouri has one of the highest rates of high school baseball participation in the country; their neighbors to the north in Iowa aren’t far behind.
Baseball Training, Camps, and Clinics
Youth baseball camps and clinics in the Midwest aren’t limited to Missouri and Iowa. For example, the Sanford Sports Academy in Sioux Falls offers developmental baseball training for athletes of different ages as well as access to traveling teams.
Ice Sports are for the Stout of Heart
Historically, Minnesota has always been known as one of the most hockey-crazy states in the nation. The state’s premier college hockey team, the University of Minnesota’s Golden Gophers, has won five national titles. Unfortunately for them, that’s actually fewer than two of their Midwestern rivals. Wisconsin’s Badgers have captured six national championships, and the North Dakota Fighting Sioux have won an even more impressive seven.
The success of all three of these programs certainly means that the Midwest is the best when it comes to college hockey. Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin are also three of only 17 states to offer ice hockey as a high school sport. Minnesota has the most high school hockey programs of any state in the country and the second-highest number of participants.
Curling is Big in North Dakota
But hockey is not the only sport Midwesterners play on the ice. Earlier in 2023, the North Dakota state government named curling as the official sport of the state. North Dakota boasts more curling clubs per capita than any other state.
Bass Fishing in the Midwest is Heaven on Earth
Admit it. You weren’t expecting to see fishing on this list. Perhaps you weren’t even thinking that bass fishing was a sport. Increasingly, however, high schools and colleges are starting to officially recognize fishing competitions.
As of this writing, seven states, including Missouri, have officially sanctioned bass fishing as a high school sport. In many states where bass fishing has yet to be recognized, outside organizations sponsor fishing tournaments at the state and national levels. For example, the Student Angler Federation and Major League Fishing sponsor high school state championships in Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, and North Dakota. And the Midwest holds its own on the national level as well; 2023’s Major League Fishing national high school champions hail from the Cambridge-Isanti School District, just north of Minneapolis.
Best of the Rest of Midwest Sports
While track and field championships may not be a must-see for most sports fans, high school students across the Midwest participate in the sport in large numbers. In fact, the high school athletics survey shows that outdoor track and field is just behind football in terms of number of participants in most Midwestern states. And South Dakota and Nebraska are two of only three states in the nation where more boys partake in track and field than in football.
Of course, no report on Midwest sports is complete without a mention of wrestling. The region is home to some of the best college wrestling programs in the country, including the state universities of Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri. Girls’ wrestling programs continue to grow in the Midwest as well, with the 2023 National Championships being held in Fargo. Wrestling training programs are available across the Midwest, such as the MWC Wrestling Academy, which trains youth wrestlers in Nebraska and Iowa.
Don’t fret if your favorite sport didn’t make the list. After all, bass fishing certainly wouldn’t have been part of a write-up like this just a few years ago. A number of other Midwest sports are plenty popular, even if they don’t have quite as many viewers and participants as football, basketball, or baseball. According to an Aspen Institute study on youth sports trends, martial arts, bocce, and volleyball are among the most rapidly growing sports across the country and the Midwest.
- The Craziest Rivalries in Midwest University Sports
- Kansas State Sports: A Quick and Dirty Guide
- Iowa State Football: A Season to Rebound
- Iowa Basketball Schedule 2023-24
- 10 Outstanding High Schools in Iowa
- 10 Best Public High Schools in Missouri