If I could ever give advice to high school graduates — or even students just about to begin their high school careers — it would be following the words of a great Jason Isbell song.
“Be afraid, be very afraid. But do it anyway.”
Mark Beckman, the retiring executive director of the Montana High School Association, has some pretty good guidance, too.
The Butte native and soon-to-be Butte resident spoke to Butte High athletes — those graduating and those whose careers have just begun —at the Butte Athletic Council’s All-Sports Banquet last week at the Butte Civic Center.
Beckman started his address by making some pretty lame jokes about playing golf. Seriously, he makes your dad jokes look like George Carlin.
After his jokes fell mostly flat, Beckman proceeded to give the student-athletes some outstanding advice. He told them to say thanks.
Thank your teachers. Thank your coaches. Thank your parents.
Reach out to the people who provided positive influences in your life and let them know it was appreciated.
That is great advice for everyone, if you earned a varsity letter or not. It is good advice for those who are just finishing their high school days and those who are just beginning them. It is great advice for those who are middle aged and those who are living in a retirement home.
Every person who has ever achieved even a modicum of success has somebody to thank for helping him or her along the way.
He said to reach out to them in person or on social media to say thanks.
For me, there are too many people to thank that I could not possibly mention all of them. But I will try anyway.
Betty Lester was my teacher the second time around third grade, and she made school fun. I was also lucky enough to have great teachers like Joyce Chiotti and Dan Piazzola at Kennedy Elementary.
I had so many great Little League coaches. I forgot about some of them until I started coaching my son. That is when I realized how much influence they had on my life.
Mike Venner, Ed Martin, my friend Rusty’s dad. They were all great, but my dad was my favorite.
In junior high, I had Miss O, whose real name is Diane Johnson, for math. She helped bring some sanity to an otherwise insane period in my life.
Speaking of crazy, I was lucky enough to play basketball for Bill “Chunky” Thatcher in eighth grade. He got me to do two things I never thought I would even want to do — rebound and play defense.
Playing for Chunky is something you never forget. And not one person he ever coached was shocked that he and his staff took a 1-9 Butte Central softball team and turned them into a three-win team at the State tournament.
Playing football for Sean “Tank” Maloughney and Jack and Mike Hogart in junior high is something I will never forget.
If you played for a Tank and a Chunky in the same school year … you might be from Butte.
In high school, I had Char Davis for English class, and she was tough. I figured if my writing could get a B in her class, I could write anywhere.
My first golf coach was Julie Seedhouse. In my freshman yearbook, she called me a “future state champion.”
She was wrong. Very, very wrong. But it sure felt good to have someone believe in me.
Pat Kearney could not make me a fast enough runner when I went out for the BC track team as a sophomore. At the end of the year, he advised that I go back to playing football, where I am sure he saw me as a lineman.
Pat, though, became a longtime friend, and he reinforced into me the importance of the local sportswriter.
After I left BC for Butte High, I was lucky enough to have some great teachers like Georgene Cachola, Dave Johnson, John Connole, Jon McElroy, Bob Toivonen and Joe Mazzola at Butte High.
Cachola was the student newspaper advisor, so she was basically my first editor. Connole was a government teacher who made politics and government seem fun. I think he is the reason I ended up minoring in political science.
At Butte High I was also introduced to golf coach Ed Yeo and his wife Bonnie. Yeo is going into the Butte Sports Hall of Fame next month.
He and Bonnie have been in my Hall of Fame for years.
At the University of Montana, Sharon Barrett, Dennis Swibold and Frank Allen, the dean, helped turn me into a writer. But it was Anaconda native Mike Laslovich, a political science professor, whose teachings I am reminded to the most.
I literally think of Laslovich with every column I write.
After college, I was lucky enough to work for Bruce Sayler. Bruce is not a teacher, but he taught me so much.
I lean on him for so much to this day.
To all those people, and so many more, I say thank you.
Of course, I would be remiss if I did not also extend a thank you to Beckman.
When I was at Butte Central, Mr. Beckman was the head boys’ basketball coach and athletic director.
In 1990, Beckman handed me my first varsity letter. Last week, he did the same for my daughter. That is pretty cool.
Beckman coached at Butte Central and in Anaconda. He coached basketball and baseball before heading to Helena to work for the Montana High School Association.
June 30 will be Beckman’s final day of his 25-year career at the MHSA. He was the executive director the past 18 years.
Beckman’s time at the MHSA was not always easy. Not even close.
In fact, Beckman is the only administrator in Montana history to be blamed for a tornado.
When “Hurricane Beckman” tore the roof off the Metra in Billings in 2011, Beckman led the scramble to make sure each State tournament had a venue.
There have been floods, lawsuits, recruiting scandals and even a pandemic. Through it all, Beckman has been a diplomat and a statesman, leading the way in the charge to keep things in their proper perspective.
We have not always seen eye to eye, but Beckman has never given the runaround. He has never dodged a phone call, and he has never ducked a question.
He was blamed for the cancelation of championship basketball games, and he was blamed for not canceling the tournaments even sooner. He has taken the blame for the actions and inactions of principals and athletic directors around the state.
Fingers have been pointed at Beckman for every single thing that has gone wrong in Montana high school sports over the last 18 years.
If the streaming service is not working, call and yell at Beckman. If someone is sitting in your seat, call and yell at Beckman. If the popcorn is burned, call and yell at Beckman.
Yet he rarely gets the gratitude for all the good he has done. He should be praised for leaving Montana high school sports even better than when he found it.
So today, we should all say thank you to Mark Beckman.
Here’s hoping he spends the first few months of his retirement working on better jokes.
— Bill Foley, who the master of dad jokes, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.
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