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MTN Sports 1-on-1: MHSA Executive Director Mark Beckman talks retirement

MHSA Executive Director Mark Beckman talks retirement
Posted at 10:19 AM, Apr 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-14 12:19:27-04

HELENA — On April 12, 2022, Mark Beckman confirmed to MTN Sports that he had announced his plans to retire on June 30. Ahead of his retirement MTN Sports sat down with Beckman to get his thoughts on his career, navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, and what he's looking forward to in retirement.

MTN Sports

I guess my question is, why retire now?

Mark Beckman

Well, it's been 25 years I've been working for the association and about almost 40 years in education itself. So as I was looking at it: 25 years, I'll be 65 in July, leave June 30. I thought, boy, I liked those numbers, you know? 65 and 25. And then the last meeting, this past week of our regular scheduled meetings — we have four a year — this was my 100th meeting. So I thought, boy, these numbers are all lining up. And it's time. I'm looking forward to going out and enjoying life a little bit. Still be involved, somehow, some way. Maybe on the national level? I'll do things hopefully, here with the MHSA, you know, with tournaments or something if they need some help, but I thought it was a good time to transition out. And it's always time, it's always a great time for new ideas, fresh perspectives, to come in.

MTN Sports

Now going back to the beginning, you mentioned effectively 40 years in high school academics and athletics, correct?

Mark Beckman

Correct.

MTN Sports

Starting as — I mean, when I was looking through your bio, it was basically, you know, teacher, official, administrator. I mean, it seems like you've done at least everything once in your career, is that correct?

Mark Beckman

That's correct. I was even a school board member, I was chairman of the Butte Public School board. I was on that school board for six years. So, I've had it all from all perspectives.

MTN Sports

Going back to the very beginning. Is this how you saw, you know, your career panning out?

Mark Beckman

Actually, it wasn't. You know, when I first started teaching — I first started coaching, then I had a great family that — or a great group of kids in junior high that said, you know, their parents said, 'You should go on and be a teacher,' so they actually paid my first year of college to go back or to go get my degree, which was fantastic. So, I was always looking at teaching, coaching, which I did for quite a while. Then I was asked to be the athletic director, enjoyed that, but as long as I was able to still teach and coach, which I did throughout my career at both Butte Central and at Anaconda. Then I thought, well, I'll step up, and maybe the next step is principal. Well, as I was looking into that, looking to get my certification for that, the Assistant Director job came open at the MHSA. So, my superintendent at that time said, 'You know, what? We'd love to have you as principal, that's a great path that you could go down. But also, you have to think about it. The MHSA would be a great job. Do you want to listen to all the time about curriculum and teach your problems and all that or do you want to do activities and sports all day?' So I applied, and that's how I got here.

MTN Sports

Across, you know, the last 40 years, obviously you've had your hand in many different things, I guess what has been one of your favorite moments across your career?

Mark Beckman

Well, I've been very fortunate to work with some great board members; super staff. That's the other reason it's easy to go now because we have — our current board is really good, and our staff is great. So, working along and making the relationships with those people. And then also with all the administrators and coaches and officials that I've dealt with, that's overall, the best thing that I can say, and those relationships still are there and will hopefully stay strong over my years in retirement. But as I think back, I mean, education-based activities are so important. We forget, you know, we get into the club world and some of those things, and there isn't the structure and the rules and the philosophy that should be there. So, I think it's always been important for me to make sure that we have those opportunities for our high school kids. So, being able to offer more sports, such as being able to add baseball — something I love, I was a baseball coach. I'm on the Butte American Legion board now, have been for a couple years, and will continue to do that. — I think that's great to have more opportunities for kids. To have girls wrestling. Boy, look how that's going? I mean, it's just grown in just one year. So, I'm excited about that, being able to be involved in that. And then having events that are so special to kids. I was fortunate enough to start the all-class volleyball tournament with a lot of help from my director at the time saying, 'Yeah, go look at it' and with our board, and all of a sudden that's become one of our premier events along with all-class wrestling. Our state tournaments in all sports have been really, I think, special for kids. So, those are important things for me and being a part of all of that has been great.

MTN Sports

Now, you touched on actually what my next question was. The things that have changed across your tenure here as an executive director for the MHSA — I mean, even across the last three years, since I got here, a lot of things have changed, you know? Notably girls wrestling, baseball, shot clocks. It seems like there has been just this massive wave of change, not even including the Coronavirus pandemic. When you look back at when you first got this executive director position — it was 18 years ago, correct?

Mark Beckman

Correct.

MTN Sports

Did you imagine being able to change this much in Montana high school athletics?

Mark Beckman

You know, it's funny, you asked that, because a lot of times everyone, including myself is always happy with the status quo, as long as it's going smooth and there's no bumps. But I remember, someone shared a quote one time, you know, 'That change is inevitable, but growth is optional,' and I always remembered that. That we don't want to just sit there and just stay on the same track. This is another quote where you can get — you're gonna get run over, you know? So, I knew it was eventually going to come, because we have so many new ideas coming out of whether it's coaches or administrators, and saying, 'Well, what about this?' and the more they question we've always, I hope, have been open to put it into committee. To make sure there's a lot of discussion and then to bring it forward. If there's a consensus to do that, we always want to make sure we always look at it and make sure that there's a consensus. And there has been some change, because for a while baseball couldn't even get on the table. There wasn't a lot of support for it and then all of a sudden, the change: here it comes. You know, girls wrestling, the whole thing. But we've always hopefully been open for that discussion, knowing that eventually there's probably going to be change and change is good.

MTN Sports

March 12, 2020, do you remember that day?

Mark Beckman

I do.

MTN Sports

I know you've been asked about this a lot. Especially the month preceding that date. Looking back at it now, knowing what we know, going through what we've gone through. What do you remember about that decision? And if you could go back, would you change anything?

Mark Beckman

You know, I've been asked that many times: and I wouldn't have changed anything. Just because at that time, I have to remind people, the NCAA was shut down, the NAIA was shut down, everything was shut down. And for us to continue on — because no one knew what was really happening. Were those four cases going to just balloon right away? And when you have a captive crowd like that with thousands and thousands of people in arenas in four different spots in our state? — I wouldn't have changed it, because that's the information we had at the time. And the one thing that I did was they, you know, talking with the state health department and that, they said, you know, 'We want you to shut it down,' that was earlier on Friday afternoon. And I spoke with my board, and I said, 'My decision if you support it, is going to be to get through the semifinals. So we can at least have co-champions,' and they agreed. So, we went a little longer than what I think people thought we should have in some cases. But I think it worked out okay, and at least we got our champions crowned.

MTN Sports

Looking at the months following, having to postpone and then postpone and eventually cancel, you know, the rest of the spring sports season, before returning in the fall. That fall, it seemed like information was changing at some times minute by minute, especially for me and I can only assume it was the same thing for you. Having to navigate that, not just here on a local level. But at a statewide level, how did you guys kind of manage that?

Mark Beckman

Well, we were very fortunate that we put together a committee of pediatricians across the state, and then some of our state health directors and we've met constantly with that committee. They were on the leading edge of what was going on and they helped us to make sure that they were giving us the right information, that we could share so that we can make good decisions. And what I really liked about it, it was a lot of times, if you go to the doctor, they'll tell you 'Sit out for two weeks,' when they're just being overly cautious. They were not overly cautious. They were saying we can still I think do this, this and this, but still be safe. They wanted everyone to be safe. So, their advice and counsel was critical.

MTN Sports

Now that we're you know, knock on wood, through the thick of it. Has the Coronavirus pandemic affected your decision to retire? Now that we're through it all and now that you know you're kind of able to pass the baton on? I mean, that's kind of — that was my thought when I heard of your announcement but I do want to get that thought from you.

Mark Beckman

Yeah, and I'd have to say people ask that a lot, you know, did COVID have, you know, it was tough, it was stressful probably for you and all that stuff. And I always say, 'Well, if you really think about it, if things you know, things are gonna are going better now, we're hopefully out of it, we're not going to have another return to it. That's the time that you probably want to stay and end up on a good note.' So I was like, no, it really didn't. I mean, it was just those numbers lined up, and I thought it'd be the best time to go.

MTN Sports

Fair enough. You got the sign. Looking at your career. I know, I've talked about — I've asked you about one of your best moments, but I guess, what was one of the more difficult moments for you as an executive director?

Mark Beckman

Well, I think besides COVID, of course that was a tough time, I think the legal challenges that come in front of us, and more so now than ever before. When I first started as a director, I used to go off to national meetings; so there's only you know, 49 other directors and always be, you know, really boasting that we just haven't been in court, we're not in court very often. They're always — they were always in court. But now we've been in court challenges more and more. It's a little, it's a little disappointing and frustrating. So, those are difficult times where you're, you're challenged. And I have to say this is — that sometimes you know, that they believe in what they're challenging, for sure. You have to respect that. But it's also I go like to go back to my days where, you know, the people were held accountable if they didn't get the grades. They weren't trying to get out of it by going to court or whatever those particular things are. So, that's been a little challenging.

MTN Sports

Your final day with the MHSA is slated to be June 30, 2022.

Mark Beckman

Correct.

MTN Sports

So, what's next for Mark Beckman?

Mark Beckman

Well, I'm excited because that day, I'm going to receive the "Section eight citation award" from the NFHS in San Antonio. So, I'm looking forward to that. That's a great honor, and be a great way to end it up. But, I'm going to move back to my hometown of Butte. I told you, I'm on the Butte Legion board, I also serve on the Big Sky State Games board and then continue some of those things. Probably find some other boards to get on and enjoy that. But, I'm going to golf for a while and travel and travel even more. Try to get out and get away, every now and then too and just enjoy watching some high school ball. I'll be able to sit up and not have to worry about going down and saying, 'Hey, you're violating this rule,' or 'This isn't going right.' That's I think — it'll be really an enjoyable piece of my retirement.

MTN Sports

You mentioned traveling, what is place number one that you want to go to?

Mark Beckman

We go a lot to Arizona now. We love to go down to the Waste Management [Phoenix] Open and do that. This year, it's you know, the open and the Super Bowl. So, we're thinking if we can afford to go down there and stay, but we do have some -- but love to go there. Have friends — the director in Hawaii is a great friend. So, probably maybe take a couple jaunts over there. And go to some different golf courses. You know, they're telling me about a place called the Bully Pulpit over toward North Dakota somewhere. So, I got friends that are saying we're going to meet up there and do some of that kind of stuff. Go to Washington state we usually play, go over there two or three times a year, and play a couple of courses. And that now can be a little bit more than two or three times a year. That's for sure.

MTN Sports

You mentioned golf, I guess I have to ask this question. What's your handicap?

Mark Beckman

That's probably personal and private. *Chuckles* I am not a very good golfer at all, but I love it. And it's hard sometimes, because you golf with really good people and some of them do not appreciate my level of golf and others are open to it. But I love to go out, I enjoy it. It's a good, good way to pass some time.

MTN Sports

Believe me, I'm a 10 [handicap] and I've got a buddy who's you know, basically a scratch golfer and sometimes he can get irritated. Well, Mark, that's really all the questions and I have anything that you think that I missed? Anything else that you feel is important?

Mark Beckman

I don't think so. I just appreciate — It's been — One thing I will say that 25 years, and I've talked to a lot of the media, some that are still around, there's not many that are still around. But we've had a really good, open relationship with the media and I want to thank the media for all they've done to cover our kids. Cover all the sports and activities, whether speech, drama, or music, and also covering the MHSA. It's been great, have very few issues at all and have really appreciated their support — the media support over the years.