The Finish Line for Charlie Merrifield

This weekend divisional track meets take place across Montana. It marks the final lap in a remarkable career for longtime Butte High boys’ track coach Charlie Merrifield who is scheduled to retire after this season.

The path to the final finish line has been a long one for Charlie with the starting gun going off 50 years ago in the spring of 1963. Merrifield was an assistant coach under longtime coach Swede Dahlberg. The Bulldogs won the state track championship that spring. It was the first state title won by Butte High in 25 years stretching back to 1938.

Merrifield served as an assistant coach under Dahlberg through the 1966 season when Swede finally put the whistle away for good. Dahlberg went out in style winning the state title in 1966.

Charlie remained an assistant coach under George Tarrant for seven seasons. In 1974, Merrifield stepped into the role as head coach when Tarrant resigned the position The Bulldogs came out of the starting blocks strong under their new head coach. In his first spring as head coach, Butte High won the state team title despite not having one individual state champion.

Butte High repeated as kings of the track the next season in 1975. Merrifield was off and flying with a brilliant career as a head coach that extended 40 track seasons.

The list of accomplishments by Merrifield is impressive. His Bulldogs’ teams won two more state titles in 1981 and 1982.  Merrifield led Butte High to four state championships and nine times the Bulldogs finished in the top three to take home a trophy. Overall his teams were in the top five in team standings at the state track meet 21 times.

If Charlie had a strength as a coach it was bringing the best out of athletes. He guided some of the remarkable athletes ever to compete at Butte High.  This list includes Mike Houlihan, Bryl Thompson,Danny Hanley, Kelly Davis, Ron Collins, Scott Hemmert, Josh Paffhausen, Jake Larson, Zach Ueland and Tony Cunneen.

In his career as head coach, there were 60 times when an individual won a state track championship for Butte High. Besides the individual champions, Merrifield had seven relay teams take home the gold medal.

It is a brilliant career in a sport that Charlie Merrifield absolutely loved. He would spend hot summer days out on the track coaching youngsters on the finer points of track. He was also willing to help out athletes outside of the halls at Butte High. In 1982, his extra coaching efforts helped Brian Morris of Butte Central win both hurdles’ races at the state meet helping the Maroons win their only boys’ state track title.

When Merrifield steps down as head coach, it will also end a long era at Butte High. He has been the head coach of boys’ track for the Bulldogs for forty years. A really remarkable note is that Merrifield is only the third head track coach at Butte High in the last 91 years. Swede Dahlberg was head skipper from 1923-1966, George Tarrant was in charge from 1967-73 and now Merrifield 1974-2013.

Merrifield is entering the final turn in his incredible career. The long stretch to the finish line is now in sight. His final team will sprint home to the final tape in style just like Charlie has done as head coach for forty years. Merrifield will cross the finish for one final time as a winner. Charlie your journey to the finish line has been brilliant. It was a job well done.

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13 Comments

  • Tedd Stanisich
    May 16, 2013, 11:59 am

    Great story Pat — Good luck Charlie

    REPLY
  • Mike Carignan
    May 17, 2013, 8:21 am

    Appreciate Charlie. A Butte icon and good fellow. Tough but caring. Nice article.

    REPLY
  • Cory O'Neill
    May 17, 2013, 9:24 am

    Congratulations on a fine career, Coach Merrifield! Thank you for all the memories.

    REPLY
  • Chuck Slaughter
    May 17, 2013, 2:29 pm

    Charlie has compiled an impressive record of victories and performance over a long career. Included in this life’s work are countless athletes and students that have benefitted from his training and teaching. Regardless of ability, Charlie is always there with a kind word and lots of encouragement!! Thanks for the dedication and sacrifice to make all the memories a little bit better!!

    REPLY
  • Kay Kelly
    May 17, 2013, 5:15 pm

    Congratulations Charlie! I admired you getting just as excited for an athlete’s Personal Best as you did for a State Champion. Job well done.

    REPLY

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