NFHS Expects All States To Be Playing High School Sports in 2021


We can honestly start out with some good news in this first Team Insight Extra of 2021, as National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) executive director Dr. Karissa Niehoff says she fully expects high school sports to be played in every state in America this year.

In her end-of-the-year message to NFHS members, Dr. Niehoff says that while, unfortunately, the pause button is still in place in some areas of the country, school and state association leaders are going to “extraordinary lengths” – where state government, education and health guidelines allow – to “provide opportunities for students to participate in high school sports and the performing arts activities of speech and debate, music and theatre.”

Dr. Niehoff detailed a number of positive steps that states were able to accomplish so far this school year in the midst of the ongoing COID-19 pandemic:

  • The NFHS Fall Sports Championships Guide indicates that 35 states conducted football postseasons last fall. It is anticipated that 29 of the 35 states that played football finished with traditional state championships, while the other six had other culminating events to conclude the regular season.  
  • Eleven of the remaining 16 states have established dates for a football season in early 2021, with four states (Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Rhode Island) yet to determine dates. Vermont held 7-on-7 football last fall and is not expected to conduct a traditional 11-player season.
  • In addition to football, 35 states were able to offer volleyball programs last fall, and an even larger percentage of states conducted soccer and cross-country in their normal timeframes.

“Since the national shutdown in mid-March, leaders of the 51 state high school associations that are members of the NFHS have worked tirelessly with government, education and health leaders in their respective states to orchestrate a safe return of sports and other activities,” she adds. “The experience of playing on a high school team may be one of the only positive aspects of many students’ lives, and the high school coach or director of a speech or music group may be the only positive role model they have.”

Yet there remain some headwinds. “Government, education and health leaders in some states have deemed the risk too high to return to high school sports and activities, and certainly minimizing health risks to students, coaches, officials and others has to be the No. 1 consideration in conducting these activity programs,” Dr. Niehoff continues. “In these situations, state associations are working with leaders on a safe return date, so very soon we believe high school sports and activities will be happening across all 50 states.”

Meanwhile, 22 states have played regular-season basketball contests as of mid-December. Eighteen other states were scheduled to begin their seasons after January 1, with start dates ranging from January 2 to March 12. Nine states have yet to announce start dates for basketball — Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington.

Also, in an effort to diminish the spread of the virus in and around the playing court, at least 15 states have mandated masks in competition, with another nine requiring masks except for actual competition.

“We understand and support that health concerns related to COVID-19 must come first, but every opportunity possible for high school students to engage in sports and performing arts should remain on the table,” she concludes.