Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff, NFHS Executive Director
The question this week has been, “How do we move forward and begin to see our world through a different lens?” We know that each person, each group, each organization must do their part to end racial injustice in our nation, and the NFHS stands ready to do its part.
And, first and foremost, with high school sports and performing arts grounded since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first step in the process of making a difference, creating change and doing our part is the safe and healthy return of students to these programs.
Education-based sports, performing arts and other activity programs are essential to the health and well-being of high school students. More than ever before, these programs are crucial and can be a way for students, coaches, parents, fans, officials and others to heal and move forward.
In fact, during the stressful times of the pandemic, many high school students have demonstrated the healing power of performing arts. In the “Arts Education is Essential” statement signed by the NFHS and 52 other national organizations recently, the value of these programs during the national health crisis was highlighted.
The healing and unifying power of the arts has been evident as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country. We have seen and heard it play out through works of art on sidewalks, shared musical moments from porches, in plays and dance performances, and every other imaginable iteration of art making. As states and schools work through multiple challenges in the years ahead, arts education must remain central to a well-rounded education and fully funded to support the well-being of all students and the entire school community.
We are cautiously optimistic that very soon after three months on the sidelines, talented arts students and students in athletics programs will be back in action. In fact, the first steps back will occur next week when high school baseball and softball contests return in Iowa. As state associations are formulating their timelines for the return of activities, they must balance the enthusiasm for return of competition, and the health and safety of not only the students, but coaches, officials and others.
Many states are developing a phased-in approach to resuming athletics and activities, and we applaud the efforts of all state associations as they work toward a safe return to these programs. At the school level, in addition to devising safety guidelines for activity participants, there is another potential challenge looming.
Undoubtedly, at some point, schools will be impacted by the economic downturn from the pandemic that has affected every American in some fashion. We have seen extensive cuts of sports at several universities, and there have been a couple of reports of high schools considering trimming sports from the school budget.
Perhaps it has been said by previous leaders, but sports, performing arts and other activities are needed by high school students now more than ever before. Activities maximize the social growth of students, and we urge school superintendents and school boards to retain these programs. High school students need these programs, and communities across the country need these programs.
As we said last week, there is no better national voice than high school sports and performing arts programs, where opportunities exist for boys and girls of all races, all religions, all levels of ability to work together, to trust each other and to eventually make a difference in our nation.
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.