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NFHS: NEWS RELEASE

National Federation of State
High School Associations

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News Release


13 Leaders in High School Activity Programs to Receive NFHS Citations



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


INDIANAPOLIS, IN (February 6, 2024)— Thirteen leaders in high school activity programs across the country have been selected to receive NFHS Citations.

An award designed to honor individuals who have made contributions to the NFHS, state high school associations, athletic director and coaching professions, the officiating avocation and fine arts/performing arts programs, the NFHS Citation is one of the most highly regarded achievements in high school athletics and performing arts.

Citations for state high school associations, coaching, officiating and performing arts will be presented June 30 at the annual NFHS Summer Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts.  

Eight of the 13 award recipients represent NFHS-member state high school associations, while the other five represent NFHS professional organizations for officials, coaches, music leaders and speech/debate/theatre directors.

The eight 2024 state association Citation recipients are Todd Nelson, Section 1, assistant director, New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA); Sean Conley, Section 2, assistant director, District of Columbia State Athletic Association (DCSAA); Mary Sheldon, Section 3, assistant to executive director, Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA); Robert Faulkens, Section 4, assistant commissioner, Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA); Jo Auch, Section 5, assistant executive director, South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA); Rhonda Blanford-Green, Section 6, executive director of diversity, inclusion and educational opportunities, rSchool Today/PlayOn! Sports; Brent Mizutani, Section 7, executive director, Kauai Interscholastic Federation, Lihue, Hawaii; and Ron Laird, Section 8, retired commissioner, Wyoming High School Activities Association.

The 2024 Citation recipients representing the NFHS professional organizations are Bill Castle,  NFHS Coaches Association, retired football coach, Lakeland (Florida) High School; Jay Lemelin, NFHS Officials Association, football and basketball official, Billings, Montana; Peter Eklund, NFHS Music Association, former music educator in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and current professor and director of choral activities, University of Nebraska, Lincoln; David Yastremski, NFHS Speech/Debate/Theatre/Academics Association (speech and debate), speech and debate coach, Ridge High School, Basking Ridge, New Jersey; and Janine Stroemer, NFHS Speech/Debate/Theatre/Academics Association (theatre), retired speech and theatre coach/director, Homewood-Flossmoor High School, Flossmoor, Illinois.

Following is biographical information on this year’s Citation recipients:

 

STATE ASSOCIATIONS


Todd Nelson, New York
Section 1
            
Todd Nelson has served as assistant director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) for the past 16 years. His primary responsibilities include overseeing safety and research, sportsmanship, classification of schools, sanctioning, professional development, rule book publications, handbook updates, eligibility interpretations, championship program content, and the wrestling weight certification program.

Nelson is also currently leading the implementation of girls flag football and girls wrestling as championship sports for the NYSPHSAA, and he also oversees cheerleading.
            
Nelson’s main focus and passion, however, is Unified Sports. In his 16 years as assistant director, Nelson has worked closely with Special Olympics in New York. Nelson’s diligent work has seen Unified Sports become a part of more than 300 NYSPHSAA member schools. Due to his work with Special Olympics, Nelson obtained a master’s degree in education (physical education with a concentration in adapted PE) from State University of New York (SUNY)-Cortland. He also obtained a NYS Certification in school administration.
            
Before his time with the NYSPHSAA, Nelson served as an athletic administrator for the Waterville, New Hartford and Herkimer Central School Districts for 14 years. He has also served as the boys vice president of NYSPHSAA Section III for more than five years.
 

Sean Conley, District of Columbia
Section 2

Sean Conley has served as the assistant director of the District of Columbia State Athletic Association (DCSAA) since its creation in 2012. Conley brings more than 20 years of government experience in athletics.

Continuing from his active career as a sports official, Conley oversees everything related to officiating in the DCSAA. The U.S. Army Veteran manages all certifications and assignments for officials in the DCSAA. During his time as an on-court official, Conley officiated in multiple DCSAA state basketball championships.

Conley also oversees sanctioning for the association – both locally and throughout the 50 states. He devotes many hours wo working with athletes and coaches about student-athlete eligibility.
 

Mary Sheldon, Mississippi
Section 3


Mary Sheldon joined the staff of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) in 1996. During her 28-year tenure, one of Sheldon’s main responsibilities has been to maintain and update the MHSAA Handbook and Sports Information Manual.

Sheldon has been responsible for working with state association advisors to update and revise the handbook. With the MHSAA, Sheldon is known as the “handbook queen,” making her a vital resource to the MHSAA staff and school administrators and coaches throughout the state.
            
In addition, Sheldon has been integral to the organization as the facilitator of the Lindy Callahan Scholarship program. Since 1996, this program has recognized and awarded scholarships annually based on academic and athletic success to 16 student-athletes across the state of Mississippi. Callahan was an outstanding coach and athletic director in Gulfport, Mississippi, for 40 years and is a member of the National High School Hall of Fame.
            
As the administrative assistant to the executive director, Sheldon has worked closely with the past three MHSAA executive directors – Ennis Proctor, Don Hinton and current director Rickey Neaves. She helps to plan agendas and prepare materials for all MHSAA Executive Committee meetings and Legislative Council meetings. Sheldon also records minutes at all meetings and archives the information for committees.

Sheldon communicates with the eight activity district secretaries to schedule fall and winter meetings, and also assists in setting agendas for the meetings. Each spring, Sheldon is responsible for receiving and producing more than 500 certificates for the Scholar Athlete Team Awards. In other responsibilities, Sheldon assists at all MHSAA state championships with assignments that include ticket sales, ceremonies and media relations.
 

Robert Faulkens, Indiana
Section 4


Robert Faulkens joined the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) administrative staff in 2011 and currently administers the sports of football, Unified flag football, wrestling and baseball. He also is responsible for the IHSAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. Faulkens was a member of the Board of Directors for two years prior to joining the staff.

Prior to joining the IHSAA, Faulkens spent 23 years in high school education, serving his last five as the principal of Crispus Attucks High School – a historic Indianapolis Public School. While there, Faulkens helped re-start the athletics program at Crispus Attucks after 21 years as a junior high school. In 2007, during Faulkens’ time as principal, Attucks was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a “Magnet School of Distinction.”
            
Before his five years at Crispus Attucks, Faulkens was an assistant principal at Lawrence North High School (1994-99) and MSD of Pike Township (1999-2005).  At Ben Davis High School (1993-94) and South Wayne Junior High School (1989-93), he taught geography, world history and U.S. history. In his time at South Wayne Junior High School, Faulkens spent time coaching football, basketball, track and field, and baseball. Faulkens was also heavily involved in youth sports and was considered a leader in many areas of youth sports in his area.
            
Faulkens was a three-sport athlete in high school and college, participating in football, basketball and baseball. He graduated from LaSalle High South in South Bend, Indiana, in 1980 and earned a bachelor’s degree from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, in 1984. He then earned his master’s degree in education from Butler University and an Ed.S degree in urban education from Indiana State University.
 

Jo Auch, South Dakota
Section 5

            
Jo Auch has dedicated more than four decades of her life to cultivating the high school sports participation experience for student-athletes in South Dakota.

Now in her 16th year as an assistant executive director for the South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA), Auch currently oversees 10 sports – volleyball, competitive cheer, sideline cheer, competitive dance, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls tennis, gymnastics, and the newly-added softball program, for which Auch was selected to throw the first pitch at the state’s first-ever sanctioned game.

Auch is also primarily responsible for the SDHSAA’s efforts to recruit and retain game officials as head of its officiating program and has herself served as a volleyball and basketball official for 25 years and 10 years, respectively. As part of her efforts to address the officials shortage in South Dakota, Auch fostered a partnership that brought RefReps, an officials education organization, into 20 high schools in the state to train interested students for a future in the officiating ranks.  
           
Her SDHSAA tenure was preceded by the 26 years she spent at Menno High School, where she served as an educator, athletic director and coach for volleyball, girls basketball and track and field. Auch played an instrumental role in starting Menno’s volleyball program in 1990.
            
Auch’s unwavering drive to improve the high school sports landscape has also transcended to the national level, where she has served on three NFHS committees. Auch was a member of both the NFHS Spirit of Sport Committee and the NFHS Officials Advisory Committee and has just completed her second four-year term on the NFHS Volleyball Rules Committee, for which she served as chair from 2021 to 2024.
 
 
Rhonda Blanford-Green, Colorado
Section 6

Rhonda Blanford-Green retired in June 2022, concluding a successful career in high school athletics, mostly spent at the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA). At the time of her retirement, Blanford-Green was the CHSAA commissioner, wrapping up her second stint at the association.

Blanford-Green joined the CHSAA staff in 1996 as assistant commissioner, then later as associate commissioner. In 2012, she was named executive director of the Nebraska School Activities Association, becoming the first African-American female to lead a state association. Blanford-Green held that position until 2015, when she became assistant executive director of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association.

In 2017, Blanford-Green returned to the CHSAA, becoming the ninth commissioner in association history. During her time as CHSAA commissioner, Blanford-Green introduced several digital platforms that improved education, operations, outreach and communication. She also created a handbook committee, which helped facilitate collaborative statewide discussions prior to the passage of bylaws. Blanford-Green also led Colorado high schools to successfully complete all 31 seasons and culminating events during the pandemic.

Prior to beginning her career in education, Blanford-Green was an accomplished track and field athlete. A graduate of Aurora (Colorado) Central High School, she starred in track and competed in spirit and volleyball. After high school, Blanford-Green was an undefeated Big 8 Conference champion in the indoor and outdoor hurdles and an 18-time All-American for the University of Nebraska.

Blanford-Green is a member of the CHSAA Hall of Fame, Sportswomen of Colorado Hall of Fame, the Nebraska Black Sports Hall of Fame, the University of Nebraska Hall of Fame and the Colorado Sports  Hall of Fame. She chaired the NFHS Spirit Rules Committee, Equity Committee and Middle School Committee, and is known nationally around her efforts for diversity, equity and inclusion.

Blanford-Green currently serves as president of the USA Cheer Board of Directors, and last year, was named executive director of diversity, inclusion and educational opportunities of rSchoolToday/PlayOn! Sports.
 

MizutaniBrent Mizutani, CAA, Hawaii
Section 7

            
Brent Mizutani has been a leader in Hawaii high school athletics for almost 30 years, including serving as executive director of the Kauai Interscholastic Federation (KIF) for 15 years. He has been a KIF Board member for 28 years and has served on the Hawaii High School Athletic Association (HHSAA) Board for 18 years.
            
As the KIF executive director and Board member, Mizutani has been responsible for crafting and organizing KIF rules and policies, coordinating and organizing the sport officials for league games, fulfilling financial responsibilities, coordinating community relations, providing and interpreting sports rules, providing professional development for school administrators and coaches, and participating as an ex-officio member of the HHSAA Board of Directors.
            
Mizutani, who also serves on the HHSAA Football Committee, has been a member of the Hawaii Interscholastic Athletic Directors Association (HIADA) Executive Committee for 15 years, and he was a voting member on the committee to select the past four HHSAA executive directors. As KIF executive director, Mizutani has increased opportunities for student-athletes by adding the sports of boys and girls wrestling, air riflery and canoe paddling.
            
In addition to his service on the HHSAA Board and Football Committee, Mizutani has been a member of the tournament committee for a number of HHSAA championships the past 15 years. He was recently recognized as an outstanding athletic administrator at the annual HIADA conference.
            
Nationally, Mizutani has attended and participated in 17 NFHS Summer Meetings, including the 75th Summer Meeting in 1994 in Palm Desert, California, and the 100th Summer Meeting in 2019 in Indianapolis. He also has attended 15 Sections 7-8 meetings representing Hawaii. Mizutani also served a four-year term on the NFHS Baseball Rules Committee (1996-2000).
 

Ron Laird, Wyoming
Section 8

            
Ron Laird retired in June 2023 after 20 years as commissioner of the Wyoming High School Activities Association (WHSAA), closing the book on a 46-year career in education and education-based activity programming.
            
Laird’s leadership of the WHSAA was highlighted by the additions of sanctioned indoor track, softball and girls wrestling programs, along with a student advisory council in 2008. He also led the fundraising efforts to construct the association’s new office building in 2012 and consistently increased sponsorship revenue to avoid raising ticket prices for state events.
            
Prior to his WHSAA tenure, Laird occupied a variety of roles at Powell High School from 1978 to 2004, where he was also heavily involved with the WHSAA and Wyoming Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (WIAAA) Boards of Directors, serving as president for both entities.
            
Laird would later become a member of the NFHS Board of Directors as well, and completed a one-year term as president in 2007-08. A four-year term as chair of the NFHS Basketball Rules Committee and another on the NFHS Network HoldCo. Board of Directors are also included in Laird’s national service record.
            
In addition to his 2024 NFHS Citation Award, Laird has received the WIAAA Nancy Nakahara Distinguished Service Award three times and is also a recipient of the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association State Award of Merit and the National High School Coaches Association Distinguished Service Award. Laird’s decorated coaching resume, which ultimately landed him in the Wyoming Coaches Association (WCA) Hall of Fame and earned him the WCA Hall of Fame Distinguished Service Award in 2009, includes three Wyoming 3A Basketball Coach of the Year honors and five 3A West Basketball Coach of the Year distinctions.
 

PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS


Bill Castle, Florida
NFHS Coaches Association
            
After five years as an assistant, Bill Castle was promoted to head football coach at Lakeland (Florida) High School (LHS) in the fall of 1976. He remained there for the next 47 seasons before retiring in 2022 with 473 career victories, more than any other high school football coach in state history.
            
Lakeland won eight Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) state championships under Castle, including three in a row from 2004 to 2006, and progressed as far as the state semifinals on 16 occasions. The Dreadnaughts, who were also named USA Today national champions in 2005 and 2006, didn’t lose a game during their magical state title three-peat, accounting for three of Castle’s seven perfect seasons while assembling a state-record 53-game winning streak.

Castle engineered 19 undefeated regular seasons during his tenure, which included a run of 60 consecutive regular-season victories from 1995 through 2001 that stood as a state benchmark until 2019. Additionally, his teams won 29 district championships and qualified for the state playoffs 36 times, including 30 straight appearances from 1993 through the end of the legendary coach’s career.
            
A member of the FHSAA and Polk County Sports Halls of Fame, Castle was named the FHSAA’s Coach of the Century in 2007 to go with his FHSAA 5A Coach of the Year honor from 2004. Castle has received a total of 24 ‘coach of the year’ awards from the city, county, district and state levels throughout his career, including distinctions from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Southeastern Coaches Association, The Tampa Tribune, The Lakeland Ledger and the Polk County Sports Association. He was also given Lakeland’s “Key to the City” in 1985.
 

Jay Lemelin, Montana
NFHS Officials Association


Jay Lemelin started officiating high school basketball in Montana in 1983, and since adding high school football to his officiating resume in 1990, has been part of the action for a total of 75 seasons between the two sports.

Lemelin quickly became known for his fairness and consistency and was rewarded with his first Montana High School Association postseason basketball tournament appearance in 1995 and first state tournament appearance in 1996, beginning a streak of 27 consecutive years that he officiated on the state’s biggest stage for high school basketball. That same reputation for quality officiating would soon carry over to football, where Lemelin has been a postseason referee, as well as an assignor.

Aside from his work on the court and field, which was commemorated last year with the Montana Officials Association (MOA) 40-Year Service Award, Lemelin is the MOA Region 7 Director and Region Director Board Chair. At the local level, he is an MOA pool leader, assignor and pool president, and is also a past president of the Billings Officials’ Association.

Lemelin’s devotion to the officiating field earned him a position on the NFHS Officials Advisory Committee, where he has represented Section 8 for the past three years, and has also brought him a pair of national awards: NFHS Basketball Official of the Year for 2002-03 and NFHS Football Official of the Year for 2014-15.
 

Peter Eklund, Iowa
NFHS Music Association

            
From his many years in Iowa as a junior high school and high school music teacher and director, to his current position as director of choral activities at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, to his global involvement as an adjudicator and clinician, Dr. Peter Eklund has impacted the lives of thousands of students around the world.
            
Eklund, who earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Iowa, built one of the state’s – and nation’s – top music programs at Thomas Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His choirs consistently earned top ratings at Iowa High School Music Association State Large Group Festival performances.
            
Eklund annually conducts instrumental and choral ensembles in no fewer than eight European countries and throughout North America. One of the most active and versatile international conductors today, Eklund possesses a unique ability to work effectively with musicians at all levels of performing capability and experience. His concertizing/clinician schedule averages 60 national and international concerts annually and includes a wide array of scholarly, professional, orchestral, collegiate, liturgical, festival, all-star, and youth/student ensembles throughout North America and Europe.
            
Eklund’s academic choirs have performed on numerous American Choral Directors Association regional and national conventions where their frequency of performance set unprecedented national records (more than 30 MENC—now NAfME—and ACDA regional and national invitations). He has conducted his choirs in many of the world's greatest performance venues, including Carnegie Hall (numerous times), Washington DC's Kennedy Center Concert Hall, the National Cathedral and Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (both numerous times), Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis (on four occasions), St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, Christ Church in Oxford, St. Paul's Cathedral in London and Westminster Abbey, among many others.
            
Currently, Eklund divides his time among four important roles: conductor, guest lecturer, editor/arranger, and teacher/mentor. At Nebraska, he heads the master’s and doctoral choral conducting programs, conducts the University of Nebraska flagship mixed choral ensemble and conducts the nationally renowned University of Nebraska “Varsity Men’s Chorus.”
 

David Yastremski, New Jersey
NFHS Speech/Debate/Theatre/Academics Association (speech and debate)

            
David Yastremski started his career in speech and debate after he saw a random posting for a local high school that needed a speech coach. Working for the Calloway County Speech Team in Murray, Kentucky, helped Yastremski develop a passion for coaching high school speech and debate, and he ultimately decided to make it his career.
            
After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Yastremski returned home to the Northeast and started his career as speech and debate coach at Ridge High School in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, in 1997. He created the first speech and debate team at Ridge High School later that year, and 27 years later continues to teach and coach at the school.

Yastremski’s teams have achieved a multitude of honors and awards. Overall, he has had 75 national finalists for speech and debate across three different leagues, and his students have won 114 state championships in the New Jersey Speech and Debate League (NJSDL). His team at Ridge High School has won 20 consecutive NJSDL Overall Team titles, 13 National Speech and Debate Association (NDSA) Team of Excellence awards and 19 National Championships across the NSDA, National Catholic Forensics League (NCFL) and the Tournament of Champions (TOC) in 11 different disciplines of speech and debate.
            
Yastremski has also received the NFHS Speech, Debate and Theatre Association Outstanding Speech/Theatre/Debate Educator Award, the NDSA Distinguished Service Award, the NDSA Four Diamond Award, the NDSA District Leader Commendation award, and has been named a Mason Mentor by George Mason University.
            
Currently, Yastremski serves on the NDSA Advisory Working Group, the NCFL Executive Committee, the National Communication Association (NCA) Teaching and Learning Council, the NJSDL Executive Committee, and is the NSDA New Jersey District Chair. Yastremski has also held a wide variety of other positions with these associations throughout his time in speech and debate.
 

Janine Stroemer, Illinois
NFHS Speech/Debate/Theatre/Academics Association (theatre)

            
Janine Stroemer retired in 2022 after 19 years as an English teacher and speech/theatre coach at Homewood-Flossmoor High School in Flossmoor, Illinois. Prior to joining Homewood-Flossmoor in 2004, Stroemer was a teacher and speech coach at Rich Central High School in Olympia Fields, Illinois.
            
After graduating from Northern Illinois University and earning her master’s from Illinois State University, Stroemer served 10 years at Rich Central, where she built the speech program and sent students to the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) state tournament every year.
            
In her 19 years at Homewood-Flossmoor as speech and theatre coach, Stroemer coached nearly 300 students to the IHSA state finals, culminating in 30 IHSA state finalists and six state champions, including one in Dramatic Duet Acting, one in Humorous Interpretation, two in Performance in the Round, and two in Group Interpretation. In competitive drama, Stroemer has led H-F teams to the final round 13 times.
            
Among her other accomplishments at Homewood-Flossmoor, hosted the Southwest Suburban Conference championship 13 straight years and earned Three-Diamond status with the National Speech and Debate Association. Twice, she was nominated for the Golden Apple in Teaching Award.
            
In 2020, Stroemer was a strong advocate for legislation which amended the Courses of Study Article of the Illinois School Code and added forensic speech (speech and debate) to the music, art, foreign language or vocational education elective that a pupil may choose to satisfy the one-year prerequisite that each pupil entering the ninth grade is required to successfully complete to receive a high school diploma.
            
Stroemer was involved in the Illinois Communication and Theatre Association throughout her career, serving as a conference presenter, second vice-president, vice-president and as president during the 2021-22 school year.


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About the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS)

The NFHS, based in Indianapolis, Indiana, is the national leadership organization for high school sports and performing arts activities. Since 1920, the NFHS has led the development of education-based interscholastic sports and performing arts activities that help students succeed in their lives. The NFHS sets direction for the future by building awareness and support, improving the participation experience, establishing consistent standards and rules for competition, and helping those who oversee high school sports and activities. The NFHS writes playing rules for 17 sports for boys and girls at the high school level. Through its 50 member state associations and the District of Columbia, the NFHS reaches more than 19,500 high schools and 12 million participants in high school activity programs, including more than 7.9 million in high school sports. As the recognized national authority on interscholastic activity programs, the NFHS conducts national meetings; sanctions interstate events; offers online publications and services for high school coaches and officials; sponsors professional organizations for high school coaches, officials, speech and debate coaches, and music adjudicators; serves as the national source for interscholastic coach training; and serves as a national information resource of interscholastic athletics and activities. For more information, visit the NFHS website at www.nfhs.org.

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