Flathead Fixtures

By Beacon Staff

During high school track practice inside Legends Stadium last spring, a few runners were grumbling about their workout. The assignment was to sprint 200 meters, or halfway around the track, 10 consecutive times with short breaks in between.

So Dan Hodge, the Braves’ 67-year-old head coach, tightened his shoelaces and lined up alongside the team.

“You think this is tough? Well I’ll do it with you,” he recalled saying.

Hodge ran the entire workout with his teenage athletes.

“That stopped the complaining,” he said.

Hodge is still practicing what he preaches, and it’s one of the many ways he’s earned respect on and off the track during a legendary coaching career.

With personality and zest, Hodge has mentored generations of Flathead athletes and helped build one of the most successful track programs in Montana history with a hale and hearty group of longtime assistants.

Since Hodge became head coach of the boys team in 1976, the Braves have won six state championships, tying him for fourth most, and 16 divisional titles. In 36 seasons, Flathead has produced 76 individual state champions and brought home 18 top-three team trophies from state.

“That doesn’t just happen by magic. That comes because of coaches like Dan,” said Whitefish head track coach Derek Schulz, who competed for Hodge in the 1980s.

The Braves’ 68-year-old coach was recently named one of eight finalists for national track coach of the year. It’s Hodge’s fourth nomination by the National High School Coaches Association.

One of Hodge’s longtime sidekicks, Gary Moen, was also named a finalist for national assistant coach of the year for girls sports. It’s Moen’s second nomination.

The top honors will be announced in late June in Des Moines, Iowa at the 48th annual NHSCA national convention. Hodge and his wife Pat, who has served as her husband’s trusted helper throughout, will travel to the convention where he will give a presentation on his coaching philosophy.

Hodge said the presentation would center on his longstanding emphasis that athletes stay physically fit year-round through plyometric exercises and other sports. Even since retiring from teaching years ago, Hodge still ambles the high school hallways on a regular basis, hoping to motivate kids into participating in extra-curricular activities the same way he has his whole life.

“I’ve always said this: Every school has a championship team walking in its halls. Every school in this state has the potential for a state champion, you just have to get them out for the sport,” Hodge said.

As others describe him, Hodge is both a coach and a cheerleader. He’s at every basketball game, every wrestling match.

“He’s always encouraging me to try the best I can, because you’re not going to get any better when you’re slacking off,” said Flathead senior Kevin Grosswiler, a multi-sport athlete.

“He’s a great guy. He’s a fun guy. He’ll make the practices fun no matter what you’re doing. I don’t know one person who doesn’t like him.”

His impact has rippled beyond Flathead, too.

Flathead High School coach Gary Moen, left, works with first-time javelin thrower Zoe Loudermilk during a recent track practice at Legends Field. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

Schulz played multiple sports for the Braves, including track, before graduating in 1985. He said he became a coach in Whitefish largely because of people like Hodge. Schulz is in his 18th year as head track coach, and in that time Whitefish has won six state championships.

“He was just the person who gave me the love of the sport,” Schulz said.

“Basically everything I know about track, I learned from Hodge.”

But ask Hodge about success and dynasties, and he’ll emphasize the same thing he reminds athletes: Track may seem like a sport of individuals, but at its heart, it truly involves a team.

For Hodge, that team includes a group of longtime assistants who have carried on a proud tradition and legacy that are deeply rooted at Flathead.

Together, Flathead’s track coaches are perhaps the most experienced in the state.

Consider these six men.

Hodge accepted an assistant coaching job for track and football at Flathead in 1972, before becoming the head track coach four years later.

Moen has coached several sports in the Kalispell school district for 42 years and joined Flathead’s varsity track program in 1977.

Bill Epperly has coached at Flathead since the 1960s, and served successful stints as head basketball and track coach. He’s coached for 45 years and counting, and 42 of those involved track.

Paul Jorgensen has coached boys and girls distance runners since 1973 and is also the longest tenured high school cross country coach in Montana, with 40 years and counting. Jorgensen was named the NHSCA coach of the year for boys cross country in 2008 and for girls in 2010. He was inducted into the NHSCA Hall of Fame in 2003.

Bob Raeth has taught and coached in Kalispell since 1981, but has served specifically as an assistant for track since 1988.

Joe Sullivan has 26 years and counting of experience as a track assistant.

Between those six men, Flathead has more than 210 years of track coaching experience.

And between boys and girls teams, Kalispell is home to 25 track state championships, which is the second most for one city in Montana, barely behind Billings. Twenty-one of those championship occurred after 1972.

“That whole crew, they’re incredible,” said Flathead activities director Bryce Wilson, who also competed under Hodge and the other longtime mentors.

“It is really neat to see the legacy and tradition through those coaches.”

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