Mark Beckman, executive director of the Montana High School Association (MHSA), assumed the presidency of the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS) for 2019-20 on July 2 at the conclusion of the NFHS Summer Meeting in Indianapolis.
Beckman, who is the 60th NFHS president, has been the MHSA executive director since 2004 after seven years as MHSA assistant director. His tenure with the MHSA was preceded by a 14-year career in educational administration that included roles as a high school administrator, instructor, coach and official. Beckman was athletic director at Butte (Montana) Central High School, as well as an activities director and teacher at Anaconda (Montana) High School.
Beckman has served the NFHS membership as chair of the Programs Subcommittee for the 2011-16 Strategic Planning Committee. More recently, he concluded terms on the NFHS Network Board of Directors and the NFHS Appeal Board.
Question: What is on your agenda for your term as president of the NFHS?
Beckman: I think the most important item on my agenda would be to make sure we are looking at, distributing, explaining and following through with our NFHS Board of Directors priorities for the 2019-20 school year.
Question: Among the priorities of the NFHS Board of Directors, which stand out to you?
Beckman: Out of the six priorities – of course, they’re all important – I think the one that stands out to me is technology. We’re completing a technology audit at the NFHS that will hopefully improve structures and operations, as well as the external services to the NFHS membership. We’re really looking forward, and seeing where we’re going with that, so that we can offer better service to our members. Another important priority for the NFHS is our Sports Medicine Advisory Committee regarding health and safety guidelines for our student activity participants, as well as the risk minimization in rules and regulations.
Question: As a long-tenured state administrator, how do you plan to apply your strengths to serving the NFHS membership as president?
Beckman: After being in our office (Montana High School Association) for 23 years, and going on my 16th year as executive director, hopefully I’ve been able to work with other people, be collaborative, learn from others and be able to take all of that information and share it to make sure it is used in a positive way.
Question: What are some of the key issues in high school athletics and activities?
Beckman: The first issue is students’ safety through risk minimization and, right now, mental health issues. For example, Montana, specifically, has the highest teenage suicide rate in the nation. We’re working on resources here to address that with our schools. We’ve found that the mental health of our student-athletes and activity participants across the nation is an issue that we want to further address and develop some resources for.
Another big issue is the shortage of officials, as well as the recruiting and retention of officials. The retention of officials is especially an issue because we know there are factors that come into play where an official works a couple of years before going out, and while we may be able to replace them, we’re not getting them up to four or five years where they’re then ready for varsity and postseason competitions. So, how can we retain those officials? We know we have to work on the adult fans. Some of our adult fans are not behaving very well. How do we deal with that so that we can take that pressure off the officials, but also deal with unsporting behaviors at our contests?
Question: As the NFHS continues to face emerging issues, in what ways can it continue to address and positively promote athletics and activities?
Beckman: I think it’s important to note that the Federation leadership team is doing a great job in aggressively addressing issues as they come up. As an example, while we were in Oklahoma City (NFHS Section 6 meeting), a news flash came across the television regarding the dangers of vaping and the students who have fallen ill and some who have even passed away. While discussing that, Chief Operating Officer Davis Whitfield texted a few people and, next thing you know, an article on the dangers of vaping was out nationwide the next morning.
I think we need to continue to aggressively go after these issues and provide resources. We already have a great resource in NFHS Learn, as well as a great communications and publications staff who puts out pertinent and timely information. I think it’s also important for us all to use social media better in order to get information out to our kids because that’s where they are at. We must continue to provide those key resources and educational opportunities in all platforms.
Question: As an executive director at the state level, and as NFHS president on a national level, what is your response to the decline in the number of sports officials?
Beckman: We have to address the problems that are occurring. It’s not just a one-dimensional problem. A lot of times we hear that it’s unsporting behavior by fans. That’s a big part of it, which has officials saying, “We don’t want to deal with this anymore.” We also have to look at other factors. For example, we have young adults coming up who aren’t necessarily interested in becoming an official. There are also other interests, such as in the technology world. There’s so many things going on. Sometimes younger people like instant gratification. We have to deal with that and have strategies for that. They may not be assigned to varsity games immediately. They have to work through that and receive training for that role. They must understand it’s not a failure if they don’t get varsity games right away.
The other issue out there is that it isn’t as easy to get off work as it was back in my day. When I was teaching, I would say I have a game to officiate. The response would be, “You bet. Go ahead and we’ll cover you with one of our administrators.” There was no time that had to be used. That’s not the case anymore. With more games seemingly occurring earlier in the afternoon, it’s harder for officials to get off work and that’s more personal time they are having to take from a later opportunity to spend with their family. These are all factors that we’ll all have to look at, address and come up with some strategies.
Question: How do you address the challenge regarding the decline in participation in some sports due to risk of injury issues?
Beckman: In some areas, participation numbers are up. So, we have to look at that and see if the decline may not be just because of population decline. In Montana, some of our urban areas are growing, but the majority of the rural areas are declining. If you have fewer students, you’re going to have less participation. We have to make sure we’re aware of that, and the actual reasons for it.
If it is related to safety, we have to get our resources and educational tools out there to make sure everyone understands that – for example – football is the safest it has ever been. Yes, there can be some major injuries in any contact sport, but there is so much work going into minimizing risk – whether it’s soccer, ice hockey or another contact sport.
We must balance the inherent risks with the value of participating in extracurricular activities. We have to make sure that we continue to distribute more information in regard to the value. For example, three-sport athletes have a higher grade-point average (GPA) than two-sport athletes. Two-sport athletes having higher GPAs than one-sport athletes, as was revealed by an Indiana State University study. Those things need to be shared. Participating in sports and fine arts and activities are really good for kids.
Question: In what ways can the NFHS continue to improve for the greater good of high school athletics and activities?
Beckman: I think by addressing all the topics that come up, we always need to be on the forefront. We want to be the leader. We want to be the place where everyone goes to ask questions, to find information, and to look for educational resources about high school athletics and activities. We need to continue to be that resource, as well as be up to date in providing good information, educational opportunities and support for our 51 state associations.
Cody Porter is a graphic arts/communications assistant in the NFHS Publications/ Communications Department.