In April, the NFHS Middle School Committee met for the first time in Indianapolis. In that discussion, eight committee members began to define the NFHS’s role in middle school activities.
The eight charter committee members were Rhonda Blanford- Green (Chair, Section 6, Colorado); Robert Johnson (Section 1, Vermont); Sarah Bridenbaugh (Section 2, Kentucky); Rickey Neaves (Section 3, Mississippi); Gary Ross (Section 4, Iowa); Bill Faflick (Section 5, Kansas); Pamela Sloan (Section 7, Nevada); and Brian Smith (Section 8, Washington).
“In a recent survey of the NFHS membership, 24 of the 51 state associations include middle schools within their state membership,” said Julie Cochran, NFHS director of sports and liaison to the NFHS Middle School Committee. “State associations and the NFHS are constantly looking for new ways to deliver the benefits of interscholastic activities participation. Expanding the message to middle schools will benefit middle school students and could help retain students participating in high school activities as well.”
During the initial meeting, the committee produced a vision statement outlining its future.
“The NFHS believes that an understanding of the unique physical, psychological, emotional and development needs of all middle-level age student participants should drive all aspects of middle-level interscholastic competition. Our goal is to guide middle-level students, coaches, administrators, parents, community and collaborative stakeholders to work together to influence all students to realize their potential to become the best versions of themselves in a safe environment.”
Several NFHS member state associations such as the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) and the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) sponsor a state championship for middle schools in several sports.
Illinois has a separate organization for activities at the middle school level, the Illinois Elementary School Association (IESA), which was founded in 1928. The IESA is the only organization that exclusively governs the interscholastic activities for grades five through eight. The first IESA championship was held in 1930.
“Engaging students at the middle school level is different when compared to the high school level,” said Dr. Karissa Niehoff, NFHS executive director, when she spoke to the committee this spring. “It needs to be intentional with tighter controls on behavior and sportsmanship.”
The committee will be looking at advocacy, communications and education for middle school students, parents, coaches and administrators. It will be developing promotional and educational materials to be distributed from the NFHS and reviewing and sharing resource materials applicable to middle schools. There are many current NFHS courses available on the NFHS Learning Center (www.nfhslearn.com) that pertain to middle school students, coaches, parents, and administrators.
Jack Roberts, former Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) executive director was quoted in a February 2017 High School Today article, “We feel strongly in the need to nurture our middle school and junior high programs, not because we want to be the kings of middle school sports, but because the better we believe they’re done at that level, the richer, stronger and more educational the high school level will be.”
“I am excited about the middle school committee and what it might bring the NFHS and its membership,” Cochran said. “Interscholastic activities promote respect and integrity, develop leadership and life skills, foster inclusion of a diverse population, promote healthy lifestyles, and safe competition. These are some of the benefits of participation in education- based athletics and activities that we can share with the middle school level to help engage and retain students as they transition into high school activities.”