GUEST COMMENTARY: High school sports players, parents, coaches have much to be grateful for in 2020
BY KARISS NIEHOFF and JULIAN TACKETT, Guest columnists
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly caused everyone to hit the pause button on life.
During the stoppage and forced time away from routines, and even as some activities have resumed, many people have come to more deeply appreciate the important things in life — family, friends and faith, among others.
Still, the loss of certain routines and regular activities seem to hurt worse than others, namely last spring when high school sports and performing arts were shut down. Millions of students, coaches, parents and fans quickly began to realize and more deeply appreciate the privilege of involvement in these education-based programs in schools.
Now, slowly but surely, high school sports and performing arts are on their way back into schools in Kentucky and across a good portion of our country. While things are different for now — with social distancing, masks and hygiene protocols in place — there is a resounding feeling of thankfulness that some degree of normalcy appears to be returning.
As a result, this year’s celebration of National High School Activities Month will be like none other in the 40-year history of the event. Since 1980, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and its member state associations have promoted the values of high school activity programs during October, but this year will be extra special.
Kicking off the monthlong focus Oct. 4-10 was National Sportsmanship, Fan Appreciation and Public-Address Announcers Week.
Hopefully, one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that parents and other fans are more grateful for any opportunity to attend contests this year and positively support student participants. At this time last year, there were numerous incidents of inappropriate adult behavior at high school events — mostly directed at officials.
This year, in addition to being respectful of officials, being a good fan involves supporting participants by social distancing and wearing a mask or face covering to contests. Attending a high school contest is perhaps, even more, a privilege now, and players, coaches, and officials need visible, positive and encouraging support.
Oct. 11-17 is National Performing Arts Activities and State High School Associations Week.
More than 4 million high school students are involved in speech, debate, music, band and theater activities each year. And the results of an aerosol study conducted by the NFHS and 125 other organizations show that if schools are in session, these activities can be safely conducted by implementing a mitigation strategy focused on Masks-Distance-Time-Air Flow-Hygiene whether in school-day activity or after-school competition.
Competing on the debate team or playing in the marching band or acting on stage as a part of the theater team help students develop critical-thinking skills. They also learn to be better communicators and tend to be good listeners — qualities that are essential for success in life and in their chosen careers.
This week is also set aside to recognize the 51 NFHS member state associations, which have been working nearly continuously around the clock for the past seven months with state government, health and education leaders to outline a safe return to activities.
The week of Oct. 18-24 is National Coaches, Advisors, Officials and Sponsors Week.
High school coaches are playing an even larger role this year in connecting with their athletes — whether that connection is virtual or in-person. In some situations, a coach may be the most significant mentor in a student-athlete’s life, so keeping that relationship intact is paramount. In many cases, state associations were able to renew those important relationships long before the competition began, to further support the local students in this time of need.
The burgeoning nationwide shortage of officials has been exacerbated by the pandemic as some officials have decided not to return, hopefully just for the short term. To help with this critical situation, the NFHS is continuing its #BecomeAnOfficial campaign. Individuals can get started on a career in officiating by clicking on the link at www.highschoolofficials.com.
The week of Oct. 25-31 is National Community Service/Youth Awareness Week. Schools across the country need financial support from communities due to loss of revenue from the pandemic. Whether it is a local donation, a subscription to the NFHS Network or some other financial help, your support of your local school program is vital.
Whether as a participant, parent, coach, official, teacher, administrator, community supporter or general fan, millions are invested in the greatest education-based programs in the country — high school sports and performing arts. In Kentucky, and throughout the rest of our nation, we encourage support of these programs more than ever this year during National High School Activities Month.
More information on National High School Activities Month is available at www.NFHS.org/HSActivitiesMonth.
Karissa Niehoff is executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations. Julian Tackett is commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. They can be emailed through Joe Angolia at firstname.lastname@example.org.