On a recent Thursday afternoon, Glacier High School head boys track coach Arron Deck was trying to figure out what to do with his athletes.
Northwest Montana’s weather, always finicky during the spring track season, had taken a recent U-turn toward winter, leading to the cancellation of a Tuesday meet at Legend’s Stadium. Then came the news that the overnight low temperature in Butte, where Friday’s meet was scheduled, was forecast to drop to 0 degrees. Not ideal conditions to run, jump or throw.
Deck and his coaching staff decided to hold an inter-squad relay mini meet to give the athletes an avenue to tap into their competitive reservoirs for the week.
Called “ESKIMO Relays,” Deck said the event has been used by himself and former Glacier track coaches when inclement weather impacted the track schedule. The throwers were divided into teams to run 4x100s, sprinters and jumpers ran 4x400s, and the distance crew ran 4x800s. Coaches tried to make the teams as even as possible, and athletes were encouraged to show up in costumes.
The response from the team was enthusiastic as athletes traded batons dressed as Minions, kangaroos and wearing all manner of onesies, all while running as hard as they could.
“As coaches we’ve always tried to bring the energy and enthusiasm, because at the end of the day, we’re getting kids that have been in school for seven periods,” Deck said. “I’ve always wanted to make practice the best experience possible for every kid, knowing that other than a small percentage that move on, high school sports is the extent of their athletic career.”
This is Deck’s last season as a track coach. His retirement, which became official at a March 29 Kalispell Public Schools board meeting, comes after 17 years of coaching in Kalispell — first at the middle school, then at Glacier — and a stint at Billings Senior as a track and football coach before that.
“I grew up playing hockey, football and baseball, but never ran track other than a year in junior high,” Deck said. “I’m just an educator coach that was looking to get as many kids out for athletics, and I fell in love with track and field.”
Deck has coached almost every track event during his tenure — shotput, discus and distance are the only exceptions — but started with arguably the most technical event on the field: pole vault.
“I read every pole vault book and watched every pole vault video I could find because I’d never been around that event,” Deck said. “That was exciting, but I was ready to move on to another event after two seasons because when the kids are 13 feet up in the air, you really need to know what’s going on.”
From pole vault, Deck moved to another technical event, the javelin, making his first years as a track coach a steep learning curve. He loved working with javelin throwers and it’s what he coached when he started with the Wolfpack.
“The first years at Glacier were tough, building a program from scratch with underclassman,” Deck recalled. “We used to joke about going to big meets and getting to hand out brown and yellow and pink ribbons to our athletes (for fourth, sixth and eighth places). The kids didn’t know any different though, we had them fully thinking they could compete with the big dogs.”
It only took three seasons for that to be true however, with Glacier’s boys team placing third at the state meet. The girls did the same the next year and in 2018, a decade after scoring just 3 points at the state meet, the boys ended up as state champions.
“Obviously championships and podium finishes are highlights, but the small victories, the little individual success stories that every single athlete has each season are the best parts of this,” Deck said. “Something unique about Kalispell is the time we travel on a school bus, which I always consider a great time to get to know the kids, learn about them and build relationships beyond just their event. I feel like I’ve spent half my life on a bus, but I’ll miss that time with the kids.”
Deck is quick to point to the strength of his coaching staff over the years and the community support as a reason Glacier’s programs have been so strong. The strength of Glacier’s numerous event and assistant coaches gives him no worries about the team’s future. Head girls coach Hollis May will provide continuity, backed up by former state record holders, Montana hall of fame members, national champions and decades of event-specific knowledge.
Despite having half of the season’s meets cancelled, Glacier’s athletes have put up some impressive early season marks. Eight boys have put up statewide top 10 marks in 11 events, including four marks that rank first or second overall. The Class AA state meet will be held May 27-28 in Missoula, and the Wolfpack will aim to improve on last year’s fourth place finish.
“Each year I just appreciate the track athletes more,” Deck said. “There’s something for everyone, whether you’re a distance runner or can jump far, jump high or throw things. As a teacher trying to recruit kids and getting them involved in extracurricular activities, track and field is perfect, other than the weather.”
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