MCCULLERS COLUMN: The work never ends for Montana ADs

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Plenty of words aptly describe the jobs of activities directors at Montana high schools.

Boring is not among them.

Whether monitoring air quality during fire season, rising before dawn to check forecasts and road conditions in winter or dealing with unforeseen circumstances such as last fall’s cyber threat whenever they arise, the work of planning, coordinating and executing athletic events while considering schedules, budgets and ever-changing weather never stops.

“As an AD in Montana, you always have to have a Plan B,” said Aric Harris, activities director at Whitefish.

For Harris and many other activities directors around the state, this week has been no exception.

He’s spent ample time on the phone with his peers in the Northwest A conference, all of whom are attempting to coordinate the league’s divisional tennis tournament (scheduled to begin today) around forecasted rain.

The same goes for Glacier AD Mark Dennehy, whose responsibility it is to make the Class AA state tournament flow as smoothly as possible this weekend in the face of the same weather issues.

Such is a responsibility Dennehy must take seriously far before most have given the first thought to the event.

Oftentimes, however, activities directors don’t have the luxury of time to develop contingency plans. That’s why much of their work is done on the fly and why, as the activities directors will tell you to a person, the biggest key to their jobs is communication — with opponents, coaches, players, parents and communities.

Weather is the wrench most often thrown into athletic “schedules,” a term used loosely by those most familiar with them.

“I pass out schedules at the beginning of the year and say, ‘It’s already wrong,’” Bigfork activities director Dave Creamer said. “Everybody kind of rolls with it. You understand that that’s just the way it is in Montana. We just make it work.”

But smoke, blizzards, flooding and lightning aren’t all the ADs must contend with. There are always unfortunate, unforeseen events liable to mess up plans at a moment’s notice — cyber threats, buses breaking down and teams canceling for lack of players.

Sometimes, they must deal with the simply bizarre.

“A farmer had just plowed his field (during a bad wind storm), and it was completely black on our field for 10 or 15 minutes (because of the flying dirt),” Dennehy recalled of one fall day during soccer practice. “We thought it was Armageddon.”

This year has been “the most challenging I’ve ever had” in terms of postponements and cancellations, said Bryce Wilson, Flathead’s eighth-year activities director.

But, as always, Wilson and his peers have persisted through the good and bad, the sunshine and rain, the unpredictable and unexplainable.

“None of it is rocket science,” Creamer said. “It’s just a matter of putting your nose to the grindstone and finding a way to make it work.”

Evan McCullers is a sports reporter and columnist for the Daily Inter Lake. He can be contacted by phone at (406) 758-4463. or by email at emccullers@dailyinterlake.com.

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