National Federation of State High School Associations: Headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, NFHS serves its 50 member state high school athletic/activity associations, plus the District of Columbia. The NFHS publishes playing rules in 16 sports for boys and girls competition and administers fine arts programs in speech, theater, debate and music. It provides a variety of program initiatives that reach the 18,500 high schools and over 11 million students involved in athletic and activity programs.
Sports Destination Management: NFHS provides a lot of information and resources including statistics tracking high school students’ participation in sports.
Bruce Howard: There is a lot of interest in that survey. It comes out every year in late summer and summarizes student participation in athletics from the previous academic year. For 25 straight years, there has been an increase in the number of students participating in high school sports. Despite budget problems and despite there being a lot of independent travel teams and sports programs, we continue to see rising numbers in school- and education-based sports. To us, it confirms the sports experience is very important, and that kids want to be involved. That means it has a lot more to do with them having fun than with them pursuing some kind of athletic scholarship for college.
SDM: Every year, the survey includes a top 10 list of sports. That always includes the really popular sports like basketball, football and so forth, but you probably continue to see new sports emerge.
Howard: We do see those. Some of the sports have been around for a while – bowling and so on – but others are starting to pick up. Vermont is starting to see a lot of Ultimate participation.
SDM: Are there other trends in sports on the high school level?
Howard: One of the things from a participation standpoint that is growing more and more is programs for students with disabilities. We’re seeing allied and unified sports, for example, where the person with developmental disabilities is paired with an able-bodied athlete. It is a program done in connection with Special Olympics. The numbers for those programs are beginning to show growth each year as states and schools provide opportunities for more students. Another good thing we’re seeing is that there are state championships in sports for disabled students.
SDM: NFHS also publishes regular updates to the rules in the sports it oversees.
Howard: The rules-writing function is a very successful program. It’s not new but it’s a significant effort. We have 16 sports and each sport has its own committee that meets and addresses the new developments in that sport, then decides whether the rules need to be adjusted or updated to address any of those points. We put a lot of emphasis on keeping the rules current to reflect the sport.
SDM: NFHS emphasizes coach education; does it have a policy on background checks for coaches and others?
Howard: We are seeing concern about background checks. I think schools are probably more aware of the issue than they ever were before, particularly in the case of non-school employees who are coaches and officials. We encourage the schools to make sure they’ve done their homework when they’re hiring people who are going to be working with kids. There is going to be a lot more scrutiny in that area. Of course, it’s not just background checks, either; it’s making sure coaches are properly trained and that they have all the information they need from an educational standpoint. We started offering courses for coaches in 2007. Since that time, we have grown the program to 35 courses and have delivered more than a million courses.
SDM: NFHS recently moved into live-streaming.
Howard: In the fall of 2013, we started the NFHS Network, www.nfhsnetwork.com. Now, between 35 and 40 of our states are taking part in it by network-streaming their events. There are 28,000 live events that are currently streamed, much the same way you would see sports on the SEC Network or the Big 10 Network. It’s a huge undertaking and it’s still in the growing stages but we are very proud of it.
It’s not just the idea of streaming sports that is so exciting either; one part of this is that the schools get to create a broadcast program with their own students as part of the broadcast team. It means more opportunities for kids to be involved with high school sports, and not just from an actual competition standpoint. It’s a great experience for those who want to potentially craft their future career.