Working Together to Bring Back High School Sports, Performing Arts

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Working Together to Bring Back High School Sports, Performing Arts


Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff, NFHS Executive Director

Since the shutdown of high school sports and performing arts programs in mid-March, there have been more questions than answers – When will schools re-open? Will states be able to conduct spring championships? When will schools begin summer activities? And the latest burning question – Will schools be able to conduct sports and other activities this fall and, if so, what will they look like?

            That question – and other issues related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on high school sports and performing arts programs – was discussed by the NFHS and its 51 state association members in a first-of-its-kind meeting this week.  

             One year ago, the National Federation of State High School Associations celebrated its Centennial in Indianapolis at the 100th NFHS Summer Meeting. This week, the NFHS held its 101st Summer Meeting in a virtual format during three days of Zoom meetings. What a difference a year makes!

            Like state high school association activities and championships that were cancelled this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual in-person meeting of leaders of high school sports and activities, which was set for Denver, Colorado, was also a victim of the national health crisis.

            Despite the online setting, leaders of these 51 groups that direct education-based activities across the country were able to connect and gain encouragement for the tasks ahead. Decisions will be different in each state, but in each case, decisions have to be made in concert with local and state health and education departments.

            One of the themes heard repeatedly during the three days of meetings was the realization that data related to the virus changes every day. While states and individual schools have established varying plans for fall sports, the reality is that new information can quickly change those plans. 

            And there is also the challenge of potentially conflicting information. Earlier this week, while there are rising cases of the virus in more than 30 states which has halted some early phases of re-opening plans, the American Academy of Pediatrics said “the academic, physical and mental upsides associated with returning children to schools outweigh the risks (of contracting the virus).”   

            The AAP statement also noted that “reopening is essential for the country’s most vulnerable students, including poor students and students of color, who often rely more heavily on the multitude of services schools provide.”

            Everyone in the high school athletics and performing arts communities wants to see these programs back on the field, the court and the stage this fall. In addition to the benefits of returning to school noted by the AAP, the benefits of sports and activities are perhaps even greater.

On the flip side, Dr. Michael Koester, chair of the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, continually reminds us that we are still in a pandemic. So, how do we bring these two together and keep moving forward? We do it TOGETHER and UNITED.

If we want to stage high school sports and performing arts during the 2020-21 school year before a vaccine is in place, selfish attitudes must end. Everyone – students, parents, coaches, officials, administrators, fans – must work TOGETHER for the good of all.

First and foremost, masks and social distancing must be practiced in all applicable situations. While younger people are less susceptible to becoming sick when they are infected, masks should be worn to protect coaches and officials.

We can do this – TOGETHER and UNITED. Fall sports may not start on time. All sports may not be able to be conducted in the fall because of risk of infection. Some participants in sports or performing arts activities may have to quarantine if they test positive. But if we work TOGETHER and think about the other person, we stand a chance of providing students a chance to return to these vital activities.

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Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff is in her second year as executive director 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, which celebrated its 100th year of service during the 2018-19 school year. She previously was executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools-Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference for seven years.

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