On May 7, athletes from dozens of western Montana schools gathered at Kalispell’s Legends Stadium for the annual Archie Roe Invitational, one of the state’s largest track meets.
Notably absent was Flathead High School’s head coach, Dan Hodge, 77, who just four days earlier had been recognized at another track meet for reaching his fifth decade leading Flathead athletes on the track and field. It was just the third time in his coaching career that Hodge missed a track meet.
“I’m missing this one for my son’s wedding, so I guess that’s an acceptable reason,” Hodge said ahead of his weekend absence. “Of course, the other two meets I’ve missed over the years were because my son was competing in the Big Sky Conference Championships in the decathlon, so he’s the reason for all the meets I’ve missed. I’m not sure if that’s acceptable.”
Even though Hodge made the comment in jest, there’s nothing joking about his dedication to attendance. He estimates that in 50 years, he’s missed maybe 10 practices; again, all due to competing obligations while traveling to collegiate championships to watch his son, who was the 2004 Big Sky decathlon champion for Montana State University (MSU).
“It shows the kids I’m serious about showing up,” Hodge said. “Missed schoolwork can be made up by reading the textbook, but you can’t make up for a missed workout, or a missed day of coaching.”
Hodge first ran track as a fourth-grader growing up in Butte. Back then, each grade school had a track team and competed against the dozen or so other schools in the city.
“I never missed a year of track from fourth grade until I graduated from college,” said Hodge, who initially attended MSU on a football scholarship, but ran track all four years. “I gravitated towards the hurdles as a kid because someone told me that it was the best event to make you good at football.”
After serving as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, Hodge ended up in Kalispell as a teacher at Flathead. At the time, the district was looking for an assistant track coach, assistant football coach and a sixth-grade basketball coach. Hodge signed up for all three.
“I just love competition. Right now, if a little kid came up to me and asked to play marbles, the competitive fire would start right up,” Hodge said. “Since I was 9, and I’m 77 now, anytime someone asks me ‘you wanna race?’ I’ll race.”
In 1976, three years after moving to Kalispell, Hodge became the head track coach, a position he’s held ever since while racking up recognition for his athletes and his own coaching prowess. Hodge’s coaching success has resulted in numerous Montana Coaches of the Year awards, an induction into the Montana Hall of Fame in 1998, a National High School Track Coach of the Year award in 1992, and an induction into the National High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 2015.
In 49 seasons, the Braves have won seven state championships, produced 92 individual state champions and brought home 21 top-three team trophies from state — just on the boys side.
“That doesn’t just happen by magic. That comes because of coaches like Dan,” said former Whitefish head track coach Derek Schulz when Hodge received one of his National Hall of Fame nominations.
Schulz competed for Hodge in the 1980s and was one of many former athletes who went on to their own successful coaching careers. Schulz spent 24 years as a head coach at Whitefish before retiring—a remarkable run and one that makes Hodge’s 50 years even more impressive.
In addition to Schulz, several local athletics officials can trace their mentorship back to being coached by Hodge, including Glacier High School football coach Grady Bennett and Flathead Activities Director Bryce Wilson.
“Over the 50 year’s I’ve had some outstanding athletes, and many have gone on to their own coaching,” Hodge said. The string of names comes easily to his mind, from the 80s, 90s, 2000s, but he’s quick to speak against being quoted on his list. “There’s been so many, but I’m sure I’ll leave some out if I started naming them all.”
Hodge doesn’t mind giving up every afternoon and weekend during the spring even after all these years. He’ll even travel to Bozeman and Missoula when the universities host conference track meets to officiate, often with his wife joining. He says that he plans to continue coaching as long as it’s still fun.
“One of the most exciting things I do is looking into the future — is there someone coming up who will be outstanding as an athlete or really fun to coach?” Hodge said.
“When you have kids come in as freshmen, you almost adopt them in your mind and you want to see them grow and mature and be successful in high school and life,” Hodge added. “The neatest thing is going places and running into kids you’ve coached years or decades later and getting to see what they’ve done in life.”
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