Mark and Christy Harkins were warned about high school romance. They were told it’s puppy love – it won’t endure after graduation.
Two decades after they finished high school in Snohomish, Wash., the Harkins, both coaches and teachers at Glacier High School, are preparing for their 16th wedding anniversary.
“It’s a hard thing because you’re always fighting society’s expectations,” Christy said. “But sometimes you grow and mature with these things and they work out.”
They have come a long way since their first failed date attempt as teenagers when Christy backed out after her mother told her she couldn’t go because she was sick. But on their second attempt they got it right: pizza and a movie. Volleyball star dates basketball and football star – it made sense at the time and still does.
To this day, sports are the couple’s prevailing shared passion. Mark is head coach for Glacier’s boys basketball and an assistant for football. Christy is the head volleyball coach. Since their marriage the summer after Christy graduated from college, both Harkins have coached high school sports every year.
“Coaching – it’s who we are,” Christy said.
Coaching, teaching and parenting dominate the Harkins’ lives. A typical day during coaching season for them begins when they arrive at Glacier High School at 7 a.m. Mark teaches Social Studies and Christy teaches English. After school, they have practice. The day finally ends, depending on practice, at around 6 or 7 p.m. Mark no longer coaches track, so spring is the only school season when they don’t coach, but they still have teaching duties and three boys to worry about: 13, 11 and 8 years old.
Summer is a slice of solace.
“That’s our family time,” Mark said. “It’s pretty sacred to us.”
During their marriage, the couple has been able to get away by themselves for vacation only two times: once for their six-day honeymoon to Cabo San Lucas and once last fall for three days at Couer d’Alene Resort between basketball and football seasons. Christy said they weren’t even going to go on a honeymoon because they were so busy, but their parents convinced them otherwise.
“It was good they did,” Christy said, “because it was 15 years later before we got to do anything again.”
The Harkins moved to the Flathead in 1995 after several years of coaching and teaching at a tiny high school in Bridgeport, Wash. The move fulfilled Mark’s dream of living in Montana. He had long been enamored with his family’s ranch in Martin City.
“Every year he always talked about going to Montana: ‘I want to go to Montana. I’m going to move to Montana,’” Christy said.
Settling in Columbia Falls, Christy taught and coached volleyball at the high school there, while Mark found himself in an interesting situation. He taught and coached track at Whitefish High School but was an assistant football coach at Columbia Falls High School. Eventually he switched to full-time at Columbia Falls and from there they transferred to Kalispell.
Even during the transition, Mark recalls being too busy with two-a-day football practices to help move their personal belongings. That’s where friends and family came in, as they always do, the Harkins said. With their hectic schedules, loved ones help out with the kids and anything else necessary.
“We’ve been blessed with family and friends,” Mark said.
Sports can be fickle – a blowout loss to a mediocre team one night and a convincing victory over a top-ranked opponent the next. A championship run followed by a year at the bottom of the standings. But for Mark and Christy, they have found constancy.
“I respect and love and admire Mark more every year,” Christy said. “He’s been my best friend for 22 years.”
As for Valentine’s, the Harkins again won’t have much time together aside from a 6:45 a.m. coaches meeting.
“We might have to pick it up in July,” Christy said. “But we usually find a few minutes for celebration.”