Record Number of Athletic Directors to Attend National Conference in Nashville
Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff, NFHS Chief Executive Officer
Talk about an amazing comeback. Two years ago, the National Athletic Directors Conference (NADC) sponsored by the NFHS and the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) was cancelled due to the pandemic. A virtual meeting was held in its place.
Next week in Nashville, Tennessee, an all-time attendance record will be established, or shall we say obliterated, when about 2,500 high school and middle school athletic directors are expected to gather for the 53rd annual conference December 9-13.
The previous mark of 2,092 attendees was set four years ago at the conference in San Antonio. And perhaps even more exciting for the future of sports in our nation’s schools is that more than 850 are first-time attendees – also a record number.
This is great news in a year that has also seen education-based sports and performing arts back in full force in the nation’s 19,500-plus high schools – not to mention the thousands of middle schools across the country. The 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX was celebrated this past summer, and the first post-pandemic survey of sports participation showed that students are re-engaging and returning to the fields and courts.
Unlike national conferences for some groups, professional development is among the main reasons that athletic directors attend the National Athletic Directors Conference, which was started by the NFHS in 1971 with 355 attendees in St. Louis, Missouri.
The growth of the high school athletic administration profession as well as the NADC was fueled in 1977 when the NFHS formed the NIAAA, a national professional organization for high school athletic administrators. Membership in the NIAAA expanded rapidly and, in 2006, it became its own organization. Since that time, the NFHS – the national leader and advocate for high school athletics and performing arts – and the NIAAA, with more than 12,000 members, have worked together annually to conduct the NADC.
Attendees at this year’s conference are signed up for more than 1,800 Leadership Training Institute courses sponsored by the NIAAA. The 54 course topics address legal issues, as well as marketing and promotion, technology, sports medicine, mental health, hiring and mentoring coaches, managing fields and equipment, building positive culture and much more.
In a similar fashion that the NFHS Learning Center has been one of the most successful programs in the 103-year history of the organization, the Leadership Training Program has been among the most significant efforts in the 45-year history of the NIAAA. When combined with the 90-plus courses available online through the Learning Center, many of which are applicable to athletic administrators as well, it is obvious that athletic directors are vitally interested in growing professionally and learning more about various aspects of their important positions.
In addition to the professional development courses being offered in Nashville, 40 workshops will be offered on key issues facing high school athletic directors, including one of the newest challenges facing schools today – “Name, Image and Likeness.”
Some of the other topics include Building Culture Through Positive Leadership, Addressing Student Behaviors During Contests, Increasing Multi-sport Participation, Promoting Leadership Among Coaches, Supporting Student Mental Health, Crowd and Conflict Management, along with legal issues and the use of social media.
Many of the nation’s athletic directors were previously coaches, and some continue with double duties. They have a tremendous heart for student-athletes in their schools, but now their task includes being the “coach of coaches.”
High school athletic directors work long hours and are not in the limelight, but they are the heart and soul of education-based programs. We salute these individuals and encourage school administrators and school boards to support athletic directors in their schools.
The success of organized sports in an education-based setting in our nation’s schools for more than 100 years has been due in large part to these individuals. Local schools depend on athletic administrators to lead their programs, our member state high school associations depend on these men and women, and the NFHS and NIAAA look to athletic directors for leadership at the national level.
Collectively and collaboratively, we can meet the challenges ahead to protect and promote education-based sports and activities.
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.