NFHS Executive Director
Dates of some tragedies are etched in our memories forever.
On September 11, we pause to remember the thousands who perished in 2001 as a
result of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the hijacked
United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Many individuals remember where they were when President John
F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963 and/or when Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr. was gunned down on April 4, 1968.
Unfortunately, in the past 20 years, there are several dates
stamped in our memories because of shootings in our nation’s schools, such as
the ones at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999,
and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14,
And on December 14, 2012, the nation wept when 26 people,
including 20 children, were killed during the mass shooting at Sandy Hook
Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. While this tragedy tore the hearts
of people nationwide, it was profoundly personal to me.
I was executive director of the Connecticut Association of
Schools-Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and, on that day, was
attending a meeting with the Commissioner of Education and the Board of
Directors for the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents. The
commissioner was interrupted to take a private call, left immediately, and
shortly thereafter the news of a “school shooting” reached the nation.
Suddenly, what previously was important became insignificant
as we were all shocked at yet another senseless act of violence. As details of
the shooting rampage were released, the incident became more and more horrific.
The principal of Sandy Hook Elementary at the time, Dawn Hochsprung, was one of
the six adults who perished that day. She was a personal friend of mine.
So, like millions of Americans earlier this month, I was
overcome with emotion when Newtown High School won the CIAC Class LL State
Football Championship – seven years to the exact day of the Sandy Hook tragedy.
Newtown won the state title on the last play of the game as Jack Street – a
fourth-grader at Sandy Hook in 2012 – threw a touchdown pass just as the fog
lifted enough to be able to see downfield.
Once again, high school sports, and football in particular,
was a unifying activity for a community. Amid
the sorrow of the day, this incredible storybook finish by the Newtown High
School football team gave everyone in the community – at least for a moment –
the strength to continue the healing process.
We have seen time after time when high school sports provided
students, parents and those in our communities a means to come together, to
band together and to rise above struggles arm in arm. This was but the latest
The grieving process will continue for those people who lost
loved ones in the Sandy Hook tragedy, but this amazing effort by these high
school football players brought smiles and tears of joy to a community that has
not had many of those emotions for the past seven years.
Bobby Pattison, the Newtown High School football coach, had
the following to say after the state title:
“The great thing about
football and sports in general, moments like this bring people together,”
Pattison said. “These guys had an outstanding year. To win a state
championship, to win on the last play, it’s been a tremendous accomplishment.
And these boys deserve it. They’re a great bunch.”
The value of high school football for communities across
America? We would suggest what happened in Newtown, Connecticut, this season
says it all.
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.