New NFHS executive director Karissa Niehoff: Kids are "our reason why"

(Ryan Casey/

CHICAGO — Karissa Niehoff, set to become the sixth full-time executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) on August 1, addressed the gathered membership at the annual summer meeting on Saturday.

Speaking in her role to the group as executive director elect for the first time, Niehoff talked about her background as a teacher and coach, and then transition into a school administrator.

For the past eight years, she has served as the executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools-Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference.

"I never would have dreamed I would have this opportunity," Niehoff said. "I can promise you that my commitment to the Federation is as strong as ever. And that commitment will manifest through a willingness to communicate, a willingness to collaborate, and compassion."

Niehoff will succeed Bob Gardner as executive director. Gardner is retiring this summer following 18 years at the NFHS, including eight as executive director.

"Truly, I think that the work that we do is the greatest work that's possible to do, and that is building the future of this country through our kids," Niehoff said. "As Bob said earlier, each of you in this room are the most special people in the country, and the most capable of doing this work."

She then commented on the importance of high school activities, drawing back to Friday's opening ceremony which featured a show choir from a local high school, and also awards to recognize individuals in sports and performing arts.

"We invite kids to talk about their reason why (they participate in high school activities)," Niehoff said. "I think, watching the kids, and listening to the kids (on Friday) — inside all of us, that's our reason why. It's the kids."

Niehoff concluded by looking ahead.

"I look forward to taking the Federation forward — being very respectful of the past, realistic about the present, and optimistic about the future," she said.