A familiar song echoed through the stands and softball field at the Conrad Complex on Tuesday.
“Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-A, My oh my what a wonderful day.”
Indeed, it was a special occasion for the man at the heart of the chorus, as always, who has inspired and supported generations of students, educators and others in Kalispell.
“If you know this song, you know Gene Boyle,” Peter Fusaro, the principal at Flathead High School, said during a special ceremony before the Bravettes’ softball game against Columbia Falls.
A large crowd of friends and family gathered to celebrate the inspiring legacy of Gene Boyle and his wife, Barb, who, as Fusaro said, “epitomize the Flathead spirit and Bravette softball.”
After praising the Boyles’ long list of accomplishments and contributions, school administrators unveiled a banner in right field declaring a new name for the softball team’s home field.
“Welcome to Boyle Field,” Fusaro said as the crowd erupted in cheers.
It was a fitting tribute for a Flathead fixture.
Twelve years ago at that same field, Gene Boyle directed the Bravettes to their first softball state championship.
On Tuesday, Gene wore a T-shirt from the 2003 team that read, “If you believe, it will happen.”
Boyle’s achievements transcend state titles and his legacy spans 45 years as an educator.
Gene’s career began in 1964 after he graduated from Carroll College and accepted a position teaching biology and math while also coaching football, basketball and baseball at Immaculate Heart of Mary High School in Coeur d’Alene. During his six years at the Catholic school, his football team won 32 straight games and the basketball squad captured two state championships. He eventually took jobs in Lewiston, Idaho and Choteau before landing in Kalispell with his wife and two children, Brenda and Deedee, in 1976.
Boyle served as a math teacher at Flathead and also took over as the head coach of the football team for four seasons, leading the Braves to the 1980 championship game. Flathead finished the season second after losing to Great Falls C.M. Russell.
Gene took over as Flathead’s assistant principal and activities director in 1980 and held the administrative role for nearly two decades. In 1988 he was named the Montana Activities Director of the Year by the Montana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. In 1998, he took over as principal at St. Matthew’s, where he would open each school day by singing his trademark “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-A” over the intercom.
That same year he also became Flathead’s softball coach, building the program into a state contender. Besides winning the title in 2003, the Bravettes placed third in 2001 and 2002 and second in 2004.
He retired from coaching in 2004 and in the spring of 2009 Boyle retired as principal at the age of 66.
But that didn’t stop the high fives and hugs or quell his enthusiasm for helping students achieve greatness in the classroom or in the field. He remained a fixture at events and in the halls of schools across town. He mentored other educators and led by example.
“He epitomizes what an educator is, the way he treats people and kids and coaches and teachers,” Mark Dennehy, the former activities director at Flathead and current AD at Glacier, said.
“Gene has always been a person who I have looked up to and admired. His spirit still fills the halls of Flathead,” Flathead Activities Director Bryce Wilson said. “He is a true Legend that is deserving of special recognition.”
Boyle and his wife received a bouquet of flowers and rousing praise from the crowd before and after the ceremony.
“I was kind of surprised by it, that’s for sure,” Gene said afterward. “I’ve been lucky.”
So has the Kalispell community.