Two Local Coaches Named Finalists for National Award

The National High School Athletic Coaches Association has recognized Flathead’s Jeff Thompson and Bigfork High School’s Jim Epperly

By Micah Drew
Flathead High School wrestling coach Jeff Thompson. Beacon File Photo

Flathead’s Jeff Thompson and Bigfork High School’s Jim Epperly have been named coach of the year finalists by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association.

Thompson is one of eight finalists for wrestling Coach of the Year following a 2023 season that saw the Brave Brawlers narrowly miss out on a third straight boys Class AA state title, but which die see them claim a second-place trophy. Meanwhile, Thompson guided the girls team to a third-place finish, also on the heels of back-to-back victories.

A three-time state champion at Great Falls High and a collegiate wrestler at the University of Minnesota, Thompson coached the Brave Brawlers from 2000 to 2008, building a program that produced 107 state placers, 48 state finalists and 13 state champions. Flathead won Class AA state titles in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008, and was ranked 10th nationally in 2008. The National Wrestling Coaches Association twice named Thompson the organization’s regional coach of the year.

Since taking over as the head Braves wrestling coach again in 2016, Thompson’s athletes have claimed six state championships, including back-to-back titles for both the boys and girls teams in 2021 and 2022. He was inducted into the Montana Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the Legends Wall of Fame locally.

Jim Epperly was named a finalist for boys assistant coach of the year. He has been an integral part of Bigfork’s athletic department for decades, having coached boys and girls basketball, football and track and field. During the 2023 track season, the Vikings and Valkyries both finished in fourth place, just half a point and two points off the podium respectively. Individual finishers had 14 top-five finishes on the track and in field events. Epperly was also named a finalist for assistant coach of the year in 2016.

Eleven coaches from Montana were named as finalists for the national award across all sports.

The national award winners will be announced at the NHSACA’s national convention on June 26 in Bismarck, North Dakota. Past recipients of the national honor include Bigfork’s Sue Loeffler (girls track and field, 2023), Whitefish’s Derek Schulz (boys track and field, 2017) and Terry Nelson (golf, 2006); and Flathead coaches Bob Raeth (boys assistant, 2018), Dan Hodge (boys track and field, 2013), Paul Jorgenson (girls cross country, 2010; boys cross country, 2008) and Joe McKay (girls track and field, 2000).