• Peter Miller

Bell Cow Award: Karissa Niehoff, a national leader for school-based sports and activities

We traveled to Indianapolis, where we honored NFHS director Karissa Niehoff with a Bell Cow Award. Karissa is one of the leading national advocates for school-based sports and activities. There are so many important aspects of school-based participation. So as the out-of-school sports environment continues to grow, we need to ensure that all kids continue to have access to healthy, fulfilling opportunities within their school communities. For her untiring efforts on behalf of schools throughout the US, we view Karissa as an especially important leader. She models the way and paces the herd.


We welcome aspiring sports leaders to apply to the Master's in Sports Leadership program at UW-Madison. It's fully online, flexible and designed for busy lives.


To learn about Karissa, listen to our interview on the Sport and the Growing Good podcast:

Karissa Niehoff is a former athlete, teacher, and coach – with tremendous insights to share. In this SGG episode, we discussed:


1. The people who influenced her development: parents, coaches, and teachers.


2. Memories of her Latin teacher: “He was consistent. He was encouraging in his own way. And he just had a way of making you want to do well.”


3. Her central task at NFHS: “Being a champion for education-based activities.”


4. Education-based activities as “the second half of the school day” and an “intentional environment where many adults are supportive of the experience.”


5. Concerns in the broader youth sports environment, including early specialization and under-trained coaching.


6. Examples of how youth sport involvement can be described and taught in age-appropriate ways.


7. Lessons learned during Covid times, including remaining nimble and the loss that can occur when sports and activities are removed.


8. The resilience and creativity of coaches and teachers. “Our school professionals really are the heroes of the year.”


9. The new era of sports streaming online. What the NFHS offers and possibilities for the future.


10. The NFHS Network operating in 46 states. Almost 20,000 high schools around the country. 2 free cameras for each school. Hundreds of thousands of events streamed each year – boys and girls, all sports, diverse activities.


11. Concerns associated with the network.


12. Words of advice for developing coaches: “Remember why we’re there. Remember why the kids are there…Remember that our kids are individuals…Remember that everything can be done with a positive spin. Every single thing can be done positively.”