BILLINGS — On July 3, Mark Beckman began a one-year term as president of the National Federation of State High School Associations — quite the leap from what the Butte native expected 23 years ago, when he became an assistant director with the Montana High School Association.
“When I first started in the (MHSA) office, I never even thought about any kind of a leadership role within the Federation,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d have an opportunity to even serve on the board. When that came to be, it all worked out to where I declared that I’d like to run for the presidency, so it was really quite a deal for me.”
Beckman, 62, was elected at the NFHS’ summer meeting in Indianapolis a year after being named president-elect. He has spent the last 16 years as MHSA’s executive director, a position that helped him land a spot on the NFHS board of directors and paved his path to the presidency.
Beckman spoke with 406mtsports.com over the phone earlier this month about the NFHS, which is in its 100th year, and the role Montana plays on a national high school sports level, among other topics.
(NOTE: This Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity.)
Q: Where does Montana fit in from the NFHS’ perspective?
A: There are 51 state associations — you have the 50 states and the District of Columbia — so we’re really a small group when you look at it, the executive directors and the associations. A group that is very close and becomes very close because we’re the only ones that do what we do, regulate high school athletics and activities. … It’s a very good group that is constantly sharing things that work within their states, and bringing up topics about, ‘Let’s review this, let’s look at this.’ For example, a big focus has always been and continues to be risk minimization. What can we do to make sure that our participants are safe when they participate from concussions to sudden cardiac death to all the things that come up in the health field?
Q: What have you taken into Montana from your NFHS experience?
A: Our section meeting is Section 7 and 8, all 11 states in the West, so it’s a really great opportunity. We’re the only sections that come together, so we bring our assistants, we bring our board members, we bring the directors and we share, so there have been so many things that states have shared ideas about, whether it’s sportsmanship programs, award programs, recognition programs that we’ve shared and, of course, we bring back and we will use and have used in Montana where, also, we share some of the things that we have done. States will call and say, "Hey, we sure like that. Let’s get more information on that and see if we can use it." And it may not be actually the exact same things, but something that is sort of an eclectic approach that you can pull different things from different programs, but you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Q: What kind of changes/developments do you foresee in your role as president?
A: I don’t think there’s anything new, it’s just that we will continue to, as the president of the Federation, to make sure that I and we collectively are working toward that goal of encouraging and promoting educational-based activities, and always share the message that kids specializing is not a good thing in sports unless that’s the only thing that they want to do, but that we want them to be able to have opportunities and participate in multiple sports and multiple activities, and that the tie to that participation is proven in many studies — those kids that participate have higher GPAs.
Q: Is sports specialization your main focus?
A: It’s one of the focuses. I think you have specialization and encouraging participating in multiple activities, but also, risk minimization is always going to be a high priority. They say that, through all of our sports medicine advisory committees and all of that, football right now is the safest it’s ever been for participation. But we can’t rest on that. We have to make sure we continue to look forward and do things that are going to continue to make sure that it’s safe for kids, even safer. In all sports. For example, in softball this year, Montana is one of two states — Montana and Kentucky — that mandates the wearing of face masks on first (base), third and the pitcher. That hasn’t gone to the national level yet, but we’re doing it here, and, of course, that’s one of the focuses we’ll look at nationally.
Q: What kind of explanations, if any, have you heard about why football is the safest it’s ever been?
A: There are many reasons, but one of the main reasons is the limiting of contact across the country in all the associations. The contact limit rules really have helped. And then, the definition of what is contact and not contact, how many minutes that can be done, and then the proper ways to teach tackling and all that. There are many different forms of that, but there’s a lot of it out there, and coaches are teaching, and there’s more information.
Q: Concussion awareness has definitely been higher in recent years.
A: We’re pretty proud in Montana that we were one of the first states to offer concussion insurance. A lot of people I don’t think know this, but every student that participates in sports and cheerleading is covered by a concussion insurance policy that the schools approved for us to put into place. This concussion insurance is no deductible, up to $25,000 per incident. So what happens then is when kids a lot of times would have head contact and all that, they would go home, and then parents were saying, "Well, you know what, we think it’s gonna be OK. We don’t know whether we should go to the trainer, check it out." Now, because the insurance is there, they can take their son or daughter to the doctor and make sure the treatment is proper, so we’re really pretty pleased with that. A lot of states now are jumping on and providing concussion insurance, so that’s another factor that I think is a really big one for us in regard to safety because football is not the only sport where there’s a high level of concussions. Soccer has a high level of reported concussions, cheerleading has a high level, so we want to stay on top of all of that.
Q: I think those are all the questions I have.
A: The one other thing that I would mention as a priority is the recruiting of sports officials. We need to all across the country work on that, and that’s one of our focuses, and it is here in Montana.