past event

Reimagining School Sports: A New Playbook for High School Sports

Principals and school leaders today are tasked with developing the whole student. Many appreciate that sports, broadly defined to include all forms of physical activity, play a key role to help students develop academically, socially, physically and mentally in ways that will benefit them throughout their lives.

But high schools lack the resources – money, staffing and knowledge – to support much of the student body through sports. The current high school sports model, which has not been updated since the enactment of Title IX 50 years ago, focuses on too few students. Progress starts with redefining success. Winning state championships is fine, but more important is growing the percentage of students who play and get developed as people through sports.

Project Play’s newest report, Sport for All, Play for Life: A Playbook to Develop Every Student Through Sports, aggregates the best of the ideas we discovered during our Reimagining School Sports project, serving as an aspirational model for local school leaders and others to help drive systems-level progress.


Why Reimagining School Sports Matters
Principals and leaders must put in place a set of aligned strategies and tactics to bring a new model to life – one that’s tailored to the interests of its students and assets of its community. As schools grapple with changes to high school sports due to COVID-19 and a more commercialized landscape, learn why the time is now to reimagine the model.


  • Karissa Niehoff, National Federation of State High School Associations, CEO
  • Tom Farrey, Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program, Executive Director

8 Strategies to Build a New Model
Project Play’s strategies (“Plays”) identified in the playbook aggregate some of the best ideas we found that we hope school leaders find useful. Tom Farrey presents the eight plays and speaks with national/local experts and students on why each strategy is important and how to put them into practice.

  • Play 1: Align School Sports with School Mission
  • Play 2: Understand Your Student Population
  • Play 3: Create Personal Activity Plans
  • Play 4: Introduce Other Forms of Play
  • Play 5: Develop Community Partnerships
  • Play 6: Bolster Coaching Education
  • Play 7: Prioritize Health and Safety
  • Play 8: Measure and Evaluate Programs


  • Paolo DeMaria, National Association of State Boards of Education, President/CEO,
  • Brett Fuller, Milwaukee Public Schools, Curriculum Specialist for Health and Physical Education; SHAPE America, Immediate Past President
  • Joseph Janosky, Hospital for Special Surgery, Director of Injury Prevention Programs
  • Jez McIntosh, Trinity School of Durham (N.C.) and Chapel Hill, Associate Head of School
  • Vincent Minjares, Sport Development Officer in Auckland, New Zealand
  • Cory Stevens, Jennings County High School (North Vernon, Indiana), Athletic Director
  • Eli Wolff, Power of Sport Lab, Director
  • Avery Buglione, Science Leadership Academy (Philadelphia), Ultimate Frisbee Player
  • Raiz Lopez, ICEF View Park Preparatory Middle School (Los Angeles), Skateboarder, Snowboarder, Rugby Player

Life as a Homeless Athlete: Conversation with Najee Harris, NFL Star/Athletes for Hope

Before he was a Pro Bowl running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Najee Harris grew up homeless. His family was evicted multiple times, bouncing around many shelters and living in a van. Harris is not alone. There were 1.3 million K-12 students experiencing homelessness in 2019-20, accounting for 2.5% of public-school enrollment. That was almost twice the number of homeless students 15 years earlier. Sports Illustrated estimates there are more than 100,000 students on youth, public school and college teams who have no stable place to live. For these students, as Harris learned, high school sports can provide a way to survive and thrive.


  • Najee Harris, NFL Star
  • Jon Solomon, Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program, Editorial Director

Tap the Power of Non-Discrimination
Creating systems-level progress for high school sports requires applying a non-discrimination filter. Title IX and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 opened doors for students from underrepresented groups by establishing that rights must be honored in the delivery of sport activities. Neither of these efforts has been perfectly executed. But the core idea that underpins each – that it’s not OK to discriminate in the provision of education-based sports – provides a foundation to build a better model for addressing gaps in access to sports. Learn what good implementation looks like by focusing on non-discrimination in high school sports.


  • Deborah McFadden, Former Commissioner of the Administration on Developmental Disabilities, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Jimmy Lynch, The School District of Philadelphia, Executive Director of Athletics
  • Franky Navarro, Oakland Unified School District, Oakland Athletic League Commissioner
  • Jon Solomon, Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program, Editorial Director
Event information
Thu Mar 10, 2022
12:00pm - 1:30pm EDT
Washington, DC; Virtual