In many homes across our nation last week, families gathered – socially distanced of course – and were able to pause and reflect on things for which they are thankful in what has been a tumultuous year.
From the COVID-19 pandemic that struck in March, to the racial tensions that followed, to the worst fire and hurricane seasons in history, to the turbulent political issues, 2020 will be etched in our memories forever.
Throughout all the turmoil and challenges, however, has been the persistent continuation of one of our nation’s most defining elements – education-based high school sports and performing arts in our schools.
Hopefully, thanks was expressed last week for the privilege of having these programs in our schools – a privilege that does not exist in most countries in the world. Likewise, an expression of thanks for the privilege of competing in sports and performing arts – in whatever fashion and at whatever time during the school year – in the middle of a global pandemic.
As the fall sports season concludes soon and winter activities begin, there are, indeed, victories to celebrate and thanks to be given. Thirty of the 35 states that were able to offer football and volleyball this fall planned to conduct state championships, and by early January hopefully all states will accomplish their original objectives. Although modifications were necessary in many cases, most states were able to offer cross country and soccer as well.
The resurgence of the virus in some areas of the country has presented challenges to continuing sports, but we remain hopeful that the remaining states will be able to offer at least condensed seasons in all sports. States such as North Carolina and Virginia, which were unable to start activities earlier this fall, have commenced practices and will be starting basketball later this month or in early January.
Mitigation strategies have intensified in many states, including the requirement for participants to wear masks. We are aware of at least 10 states that are requiring masks during actual competition, which is not ideal but necessary to lessen the risk of spreading the virus.
And then there is the growing challenge of whether fans can attend sports or performing arts events. While many areas of the country allowed a certain number of fans to attend contests earlier this fall – with masks in most instances – those opportunities seem to be diminishing.
Fortunately, the NFHS anticipated this development as the pandemic began and is providing parents, students and other fans an alternative when in-person attendance is not permitted.
Now in its eighth year of existence, the NFHS Network, which streams high school sports and other events over the internet at , is providing its greatest service ever by offering two free Pixellot automated-production units for schools that lack production capabilities to stream events through its High School Support Program.
Amazingly, the NFHS Network, which has covered more than 442,000 high school events since its launch in 2013, recently contracted its 10,000th Pixellot device and is in the process of installing the units in schools nationwide. While parents and other fans would rather be in the stands to support the team, the opportunity to watch the game via the NFHS Network has been a tremendous alternative.
This week alone, the NFHS Network is streaming football playoffs in 12 states, including eight state championships, and has covered volleyball, field hockey and soccer state championships as well. Soon, the NFHS Network will be covering regular-season basketball, wrestling, swimming and diving, and ice hockey contests in the 46 states that are a part of the NFHS Network.
With these winter sports being conducted indoors, the restrictions on attendance likely will continue. However, through the NFHS Network, fans can watch a school’s entire month of events for only $10.99 – an amount far less than individual tickets to events throughout the month would cost.
Since August, almost 83,000 events have been streamed on the NFHS Network, and there are expectations that number will exceed 200,000 by the end of the school year. If that number is attained, there are two victories to be celebrated – high school games will continue to be played through the remainder of the 2020-21 school year and fans will continue to view those contests on the NFHS Network.
In addition to sporting events, cheer and dance competitions, band, choir, theatre, speech and debate festivals and other non-athletic activities, including graduations, are available on the NFHS Network in those cases where attendance restrictions exist.
We hope the opportunity for fans to be back in stadiums, gymnasiums and auditoriums returns soon. Until then, the NFHS Network will be there to cover those events.
Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff is in her third 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.