By Karissa Niehoff
NFHS Executive Director
In the history of high school sports, the early 1970s will always be remembered first and foremost for the passage of Title IX in 1972 – legislation that sparked the growth of girls sports in the United States.
A year earlier, however, the National Federation of State High School Associations made a decision that has impacted education-based athletics in an equally significant manner.
Recognizing the future growth of the high school athletic directors profession, the NFHS started the National Conference of High School Directors of Athletics in February 1971. A total of 355 athletics directors attended the first conference in St. Louis, followed by another 257 at the December 1971 gathering in Columbus, Ohio.
The national conference for high school athletic directors has been held annually in December since that time, and on Friday, December 13, at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, more than 2,100 athletic administrators were scheduled to convene for the 50th National Athletic Directors Conference (NADC).
The growth of the high school athletic administration profession as well as the NADC was additionally fueled in 1977 when the NFHS formed the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA), a national professional organization for high school athletic directors. 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 have worked together annually to sponsor the NADC.
Without a doubt, athletic directors are the leaders of education-based athletics in our nation’s high schools. They have an endless list of responsibilities and set the tone for the overall success of a school’s athletics and/or activities program.
In recent releases of “The NFHS Voice,” we have noted the significant role that athletic directors play with regard to the educational direction of a school’s athletic program, as well as ensuring that security measures are in place for after-school events.
Unlike national conferences for some groups, professional development is among the main reasons that athletic directors attend this annual conference. They know that they are entrusted with key leadership roles and want to provide a safe and fun experience for student-athletes in their schools.
This year, 40 workshops were offered on key issues related to athletic directors' tasks, including coaching coaches, social media, effective communication, managing fan behavior, event management, generating new sources of revenue, creating positive parent culture and promoting multi-sport participation.
In addition, the NIAAA offered 52 Leadership Training classes, on topics from legal issues, to marketing and promotions, to managing fields and equipment, to working with students with disabilities.
Very simply, high school athletic directors are the key leaders in our nation’s education-based athletic programs. Local schools depend on these individuals to lead their athletics programs. Our member state high school associations depend on these men and women to help lead state events and initiatives. And the NFHS and NIAAA look to athletic administrators for leadership at the national level. We appreciate the tremendous service they provide our nation’s young people!
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.