Flathead Athletes Find District Loopholes

By Beacon Staff

Glacier High’s fledgling athletic program enters next fall with a big budget and a strange situation – the Wolfpack won’t have any seniors and some of its potential top sophomores and juniors are staying at Flathead, some because of the district they live in and others because they found loopholes in the system.

On the other hand, Glacier has also benefited from some of those same loopholes.

Athletes used various tactics to choose Flathead or Glacier, including claims that they will live with a step-parent in a different district or taking Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes that qualify them for a school district that their house otherwise wouldn’t. For example, if students made it into the IB program, they can stay at Flathead to play next year even if they live in Glacier’s district.

Some have simply moved with their families or figured out a rental scheme, according to Glacier girls basketball player Emilee Hashley.

Hashley, who’s going to be a junior, is the only player from last year’s Flathead girls varsity team to move to Glacier, though she said this is because her home corresponds with Glacier’s district. The rest of the team was seniors who graduated or juniors who will stay at Flathead for their final year.

“It depends on where you want to play and which coach you want,” Hashley said.

In Hashley’s case, her father, Doug, is Glacier’s head coach. He was freshman girls coach at Flathead.

Glacier Athletic Director Mark Dennehy preferred not to discuss specifics, but acknowledged that some athletes, including at least one prominent one, have played the district game to stay at Flathead.

“It’s kind of like an elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about,” Dennehy said of the district hopping.

The most recognizable Flathead athlete, football and basketball star Brock Osweiller, will spend his junior year at Flathead High, but not because of any neighborhood maneuvering, Dennehy said.

Dennehy said that while it’s frustrating it’s hard to ask an athlete to leave behind the team and school he or she has grown close to. Similarly, Hashley said, players want to move to Glacier if their friends and teammates are.

The boys basketball team, Hashley said, was especially adept at keeping its Flathead team together. Shay Smithwick-Hann and Ben Cutler are the only two boys from last year’s junior varsity and varsity teams to switch to Glacier.

“It’s a little disappointing,” Smithwick-Hann said. “But it’s their choice if they want to go to Flathead.”

With or without certain athletes, Glacier is already getting a head start on next year.

Earlier this month, the final lines were painted on the gym’s floor. Now, on any given day, one can hear squeaking shoes, weight room grunts and bouncing balls echoing through the gym’s high rafters.

Dennehy believes these are signs that kids are ready to make the new program work.

“We had 72 girls come out for basketball camp,” Dennehy said. “I think Flathead had something like 50 or so.”

Dennehy said his camp turnout comparison wasn’t designed to show competition between Flathead and Glacier, though competition will be a reality soon. When fall sports begin, the two schools will officially be rivals. Hashley said many athletes have tried to form pacts to keep the rivalry calm at the beginning.

“We said, ‘For the first year, let’s not be mean or do the rivalry thing,’” she said.

Two weeks ago football players helped carry 8,000 pounds of weights up a flight of stairs to Glacier’s weight room. The first week the weight room was open, about 80 athletes came in each morning, Dennehy said.

Smithwick-Hann, one of about 15 boys basketball players who come in three mornings a week to lift, said Glacier kids understand they have an uphill battle.

“All the kids know that with us being younger we need to put a little extra effort in,” he said.

Every head-coaching job is filled, Dennehy said, and only a few assistant jobs remain. An education mill levy passed in May significantly helped fill coaching positions and fund other areas of the activities department, he said.

The levy doubled the activities budget to $500,000, a rare event for high school athletics, Dennehy said. He estimates that Glacier’s athletic department takes up a substantially higher percentage of the school’s budget than the usual five percent.

Despite the big basketball camp turnout and increased athletic budget, Dennehy said there are significant obstacles. Football, for example, is “a numbers game” and because Glacier lacks numbers without its seniors, the football program is expecting far fewer players than Flathead has traditionally had.

“We have about 50 kids in (10th and 11th grades) interested in football,” Dennehy said. “At Flathead, in years past, we usually had about 160.”

He guessed Flathead would have roughly 120 this year.

Overall, Dennehy is confident about next year and likes that Glacier is a bit of an underdog.

“I think you’ll see Glacier do better than expected,” he said.

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