National Coaches of the Year Focused on Making a Difference in Students’ Lives

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National Coaches of the Year Focused on Making a Difference in Students’ Lives 


Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff, NFHS Chief Executive Officer 

@KarissaNFHS        @KarissaNFHS


            Last week, the NFHS distributed one of its most anticipated releases of the year – the announcement of the 23 National High School Coaches of the Year.

            When people are honored with national awards, often the term “great” is tossed around. More often than not, coaching “greatness” is associated with victories and championships. And as you might expect, the accomplishments of this year’s award recipients were amazing.

            The 23 coaches selected for this national honor have led their teams to a combined 137 state championships. They all have earned multiple “Coach of the Year” awards in their states, and many of their student-athletes have received individual honors.

            Perhaps at the top of the “honors” list is Rickey Baker, who led his boys cross country teams at Hopi High School in Arizona to an amazing 27 consecutive Arizona Interscholastic Association state championships, topped by the 1999 team that scored a perfect 15 in bringing home the crown. Two years ago, Baker was inducted into the NFHS National High School Hall of Fame.

            Billy Bowen has won 18 state baseball championships in Oklahoma – six in the fall and 12 in the spring. Among the coaches of girls sports, Tim Godby has led Milton (Georgia) High School to 15 Georgia High School Association Girls Lacrosse State Championships, and Iona Stookey has won 13 Montana High School Association Class B State Volleyball Championships at Huntley Project High School.

            While the “on the field” accomplishments of this year’s National Coaches of the Year are extraordinary, the state titles, career victories and undefeated seasons only begin to tell the story about why these individuals were chosen for this national honor.

            When it comes to “great” high school coaches, success is not measured solely on a person’s winning record. If victories and state titles were the primary motives of these individuals, many would have left for positions at the college or professional levels. Instead, this year’ award recipients have been coaching for a collective 678 years – an average of approximately 30 years per person at the high school level of coaching.

            A closer look at the coaching philosophies of some of these individuals indicates why they have remained dedicated to coaching high school student-athletes, starting with the aforementioned Rickey Baker.

            “One would expect that winning is at the core of Rick’s philosophy and beliefs, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Ricky Greer, athletic director at Hopi High School. “Rick believes that winning takes care of itself. It is a byproduct of hard work, dedication, discipline, attention to detail, a focus on the fundamentals, and the development of meaningful relationships.”

Greg Haagsma has led the Valley Christian high school boys basketball team from Chandler, Arizona, to 20 state tournaments and seven Arizona Interscholastic Association state championships, all while trying to make a difference in his students’ lives.

“Educational athletics play in important role in the overall development of each student at the high school level,” Haagsma said. “The experiences are part of the process by which our young men and women are being taught character qualities and are being molded into the adults that we desire they become.”

Greg Grant, the football coach at Heppner (Oregon) High School, has won 330 games in 41 years of coaching. He has won three Oregon School Activities Association state championships and ranks fourth on the state’s all-time victories chart. However, winning games and titles is not his main objective in coaching. 

“My philosophy is to capitalize on the lessons available in athletics to enrich every player’s life now and into the future,” Grant said. “It is my goal that players leave our program realizing that attendance, timeliness, effort and accountability are actions that will set them up for success in every facet of their lives.”

Terri Simonetti-Frost won her sixth Ohio High School Athletic Association State Field Hockey Championship last fall at Thomas Worthington High School. While she has been one of the nation’s most successful field hockey coaches with 365 career victories, her focus has been on leading her students to success in life.

“I truly believe a coach is someone who not only coaches the sport but also teaches them life lessons on leadership, respect, loyalty, hard work, communication and overcoming adversity,” said Simonetti-Frost.

Debbie Kishpaugh has been the girls spirit/dance coach at Pendleton (Oregon) High School for 36 years. Alongside success “on the court” – six consecutive Oregon School Activities Association State Dance/Drill Championships – Kishpaugh’s efforts as founder of Oregon Junior Dance Team Championships have raised more than $115,000 in dance and academic scholarships. She believes that youth spirit participation leads to a life of character and disciplined learning for participants. 

These are but a few of the amazing coaches who are making an impact in education-based high school athletics every day. In addition to the 23 National Coaches of the Year, another 847 were recognized at the state and sectional levels. We appreciate the great work of the 870 coaches recognized this year by the NFHS – and thousands of others who are making a difference in our nation’s 19,700 schools.

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            Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff is in her fifth year as chief executive officer of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is the first female to head the national leadership organization for high school athletics and performing arts activities and the sixth full-time executive director of the NFHS. She previously was executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools-Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference for seven years.

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