The annual celebration of National High School Activities Month is underway for the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) and the 50 other state high school associations that are members of the National Federation of State High School Associations  (NFHS).

High school students — more than 12 million — in all 50 states are competing in sports and other activity programs.

A year ago, many schools and states were struggling to conduct activities due to the coronavirus. While mitigation and vaccination strategies continue, the fall sports of football, volleyball, cross country, soccer and others, as well as performing arts activities, are off and running. The value of these programs was never more apparent than when they were gone — in a flash — in the spring of 2020. Millions of students, parents and other fans began to realize the privilege and importance of these education-based programs. 

While the NFHS and its member state associations had been touting the significance and necessity of these programs in our nation’s schools for decades, the empty fields and stands said it in a more resounding way. Absence does make the heart grow fonder.

The pause last year also raised awareness of the tremendous service provided by our nation’s high school coaches, many of whom are truly difference-makers. And, in many cases, “hero” would be an appropriate term for those men and women who have worked in relative obscurity — nationally at least — to make a difference in the lives of student-athletes or those involved in other activity programs.

And many coaches were heroes of another sort last year as they kept students connected during the pandemic. Often, a coach is the most significant mentor in a student’s life, so keeping those relationships intact was paramount.

There is no better time to celebrate the great work of high school coaches and others involved in high school activities than during the month of October.

The week of October 18-24 is billed as National Coaches, Advisors, Officials and Sponsors Week.

In addition to acknowledging the great work of high school coaches noted earlier, this is a week to recognize the hundreds of thousands of individuals who give back to sports and activities through their roles as officials and judges.

And the main tasks at hand for schools and state associations are two-fold: how to recruit more individuals to become officials and how to retain those people currently serving as officials.

To get involved in officiating, contact the WIAA at wiaawi.org or a school activities director.