NFHS Voice: Thank You to All Coaches

January 29, 2021

By Karissa Niehoff
NFHS Executive Director

Earlier this week, the NFHS recognized more than 700 individuals for their efforts as high school coaches during the 2019-20 school year, including 23 as National Coaches of the Year. 

The accomplishments of the national recipients are extraordinary, but comments about their roles as education-based coaches are even more telling as to why they were selected. 

Mary Beth Bourgoin, field hockey coach at Winslow High School in Maine, who, although she has won 173 games, said, in an article in the Portland Press-Herald, “It’s not about winning and losing. It’s about relationships and having fun.” 

Donna Moir has won three state championships as girls basketball coach at Sacred Heart Academy in Louisville, Kentucky, but is known more for her sportsmanship, humility and kindness. 

Jerry Petitgoue, basketball coach at Cuba City (Wisconsin) High School, who has won 963 games in 53 years, led his team to an unblemished 25-0 record before the pandemic cancelled the state tournament. 

In an article for, Petitgoue said, “I’m very proud to receive this recognition for Cuba City High School and the community. I’m happy it comes during these trying times. Every little positive thing is uplifting these days.” 

Mary Jo Truesdale, softball coach at Sheldon High School in Sacramento, California, has won 759 games and eight California Interscholastic Federation-Sac Joaquin Section championships, but was unable to coach her team last spring due to the pandemic. 

“I worry about the well-being of my players, especially the seniors who don’t have a next season to play in high school,” said Truesdale in an article in the Sacramento Bee. “We know there are more things going on in life that are much bigger than softball, and that’s what we’re all learning.”

Ron Murphy, baseball coach at Rio Rancho (New Mexico) High School, is second all-time in his state with 567 victories but was only able to lead his team to a few wins last spring before the coronavirus shut down the program and ended hopes for a state tournament. 

Despite his own success, Murphy was more focused on his players in a recent article in the Albuquerque Journal, noting that, “The thing that gets me most excited about this award is that it brings national attention to Rio Rancho High School baseball.”

Doug Hislop, wrestling coach at Imbler (Oregon) High School, has coached for 50 years and remains active at 73 years of age, continuing to teach kids lessons on and off the mat. 

David Halligan, soccer coach at Falmouth (Maine) High School, has led his teams to 12 state titles. In an article in the Portland Press Herald, Halligan said, “I’m proud that we’ve had a lot of good players and good programs for a lot of years. I find a lot of joy in coaching at the high school level. I love seeing how kids develop from freshmen to seniors and how they grow as people.”

These are but a few of the individuals selected for national honors in 2019-20 – all of whom have impacted student-athletes in positive ways for decades. 

When it comes to honoring coaches for the 2020-21 school year, we should give a shout-out to every individual involved in high school education-based athletics for their tremendous efforts leading programs through the pandemic. Next to frontline health-care workers, there is no group of individuals to whom we should be more indebted than high school coaches. 

Prior to the pandemic, a high school coach’s job was already a next-to-impossible 24-7 mission. In addition to preparing for the daily “Xs and Os,” interscholastic coaches spend countless hours in mentorship capacities with student-athletes off the field or court, answer tough questions from parents, teach classes during the school day and handle a number of never-ending, always-changing daily tasks. 

This year, coaches are faced with other tasks related to COVID-19, which, in some cases, involve keeping team members connected and motivated in a virtual setting. 

There is pressure on coaches to maintain protocols related to the pandemic and stay on course so the games can continue. The additional daily checklist is endless: sanitize equipment, remind students to wear masks and maintain social distancing, temperature and wellness checks with students, follow an endless list of protocols if a student tests positive, and the list goes on and on. 

The tasks of high school coaches seem larger than life this year, and these men and women deserve our utmost respect and appreciation. In addition to parents, and perhaps in lieu of parents in some cases, high school coaches are helping student-athletes survive the pandemic and maintain a healthy outlook on life.

We salute this year’s award recipients – and all high school coaches – for their commitment to keeping our country’s future leaders – high school students – on track during one of the most trying years in our nation’s history. 

Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff is starting her third year as executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is the first female to head the national leadership organization for high school athletics and performing arts activities and the sixth full-time executive director of the NFHS, which celebrated its 100th year of service during the 2018-19 school year. She previously was executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools-Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference for seven years.

2-Time Champ as Player, Haut Putting Further Imprint on SMCC as Coach

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

August 16, 2022

MONROE – After leading the Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central volleyball team into the Division 3 championship match last season, coach Cassie Haut had to apply for the Kestrels coaching job. 

Southeast & BorderThat’s because when SMCC reached the Finals in 2021, Haut was officially the co-head coach with Karen O’Brien.

“Oh, yeah, I had to go through the interview process and everything,” Haut said. “I met with the athletic director and other school officials. I was excited when I got the job.”

Haut certainly earned it. 

SMCC officially billed Haut and O’Brien as co-head coaches when the 2021 season began. Haut was in charge of the team’s day-to-day activities and O’Brien – who led SMCC to Division 3 Finals titles in 2019 and 2020 – would help out as often as possible after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer for the fourth time.

O’Brien ended up being around the program often, including during the Kestrels’ postseason run. 

When the season ended, however, O’Brien stepped aside, paving the way for a new coach to lead the ultra-successful SMCC program that has reached 10 Finals since 2003, and won seven of them.

Haut doesn’t feel added pressure as the next SMCC coach to maintain that level of success.

“I love it,” she said. “I’m honored to be able to be part of this legacy.”

Haut played basketball, softball and volleyball at SMCC and was part of two championship volleyball teams – in Class C in 2012 and 2014 – under head coach Diane Tuller. The 2015 SMCC grad also had an outstanding career at Eastern Michigan University, earning all-freshman team honors for the Mid-American Conference and twice being named first team all-MAC. In 2018 she was named the MAC Tournament MVP. 

Soon after Haut’s college graduation, O’Brien – who was an SMCC assistant during Haut’s high school senior year – called her and asked if she wanted to be part of the program now as a coach.

“It was something that I always thought of doing,” Haut said. “After graduating, I remember thinking ‘What’s next?’ Coaching was something I felt I wanted to do. It helps keeps me part of the game that I love.”

SMCC graduated several seniors from the 2020 championship squad and had to do some rebuilding in 2021. O’Brien was there to put together some of the pieces, then helped mentor Haut as she guided the team through much of its 36-12 run. During the MHSAA Tournament run, O’Brien would funnel postgame questions to Haut, preferring to stay out of the limelight.

It was still, however, a dual coaching role until Haut took over the job.

“I was building up practice plans and ideas for the season just in case I was hired,” Haut said. “I had some things in my mind that I wanted to do. It’s nothing too crazy, but I just added my own touches.

Haut signals to her teammates while starring at Eastern Michigan.Last year, for example, it was O’Brien who organized summer practices and helped build the regular-season schedule.

“I missed out on those parts of it, so it was something I was looking forward to this year,” Haut said. “It was exciting. We’re still in the same great tournaments that SMCC loves to go to.”

Haut is meshing the experiences she had as a player and coach to form her own coaching style and program.

“All of the coaches I’ve played for and coached with have a slightly different idea of the game,” she said. “The game has evolved in different ways. As I have gone through high school and college as a player, I felt like I learned more depth to the game every year. Then, since I’ve been coaching, I feel like it’s gone to another level.”

Before this season started, Haut had her players write down their goals.

“I want to learn everything I can about the girls,” she said. “It’s not just about volleyball, but life. My college coach really believed that. I’m excited to be part of these girls’ lives.”

Haut comes from an athletic family and has been around sports all her life.

Her father Chris played baseball at the University of Toledo. Her sister Mikayla was a four-time all-state volleyball player and Miss Volleyball finalist, and is coming off a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Rookie of the Year award at Fairfield University in Connecticut. Sister Maddie earned all-conference honors and helped Ave Maria University win its conference title a year ago. Brother CJ was an outstanding basketball player for the Air Force Academy.

SMCC is primed for more success this year. Haut welcomes back a solid senior group that has already showed off its leadership skills. The Kestrels will be among favorites as they seek to make a fourth-straight trip to Battle Creek. 

“From the time we got into the gym, they have been leaders,” Haut said.

Two freshmen played key roles a year ago, McKenna Payne and Jessica Costlow. Payne rang up 465 kills, 360 digs and 86 aces during her ninth-grade season while Costlow had 414 kills, 275 digs and 59 blocks. 

Last year, SMCC lost in the Division 3 Final to Reese. After taking a 2-0 lead in the match, the Kestrels dropped the final three games 25-15, 25-21, 16-14.

“I like a lot of what I saw in the scrimmage. It was good to get some different lineups together, and we have a deep bench,” Haut said. “I see a ton of potential with this team.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Cassie Haut, middle, talks with her Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central team last season as co-varsity coach with Karen O’Brien, right. (Middle) Haut signals to her teammates while starring at Eastern Michigan. (Top photo by Tom Hawley. Middle photo courtesy of the EMU athletic department.)