BILLINGS — This was supposed to be a year of breakthroughs for Lewistown’s Sam Fulbright.
Laurel’s Levi Taylor was the only runner who prevented Fulbright from winning his first Class A state titles in cross country and track last season. Taylor graduated in 2019 and now runs for Montana State, and Fulbright took advantage, winning the State A cross country boys individual title in the fall.
Next on Fulbright’s to-do list: the 1,600 and 3,200 meters at this year’s State A track meet, which was scheduled for May 22 and 23 at Laurel.
“I was really looking forward to track,” Fulbright told 406mtsports.com last week. “I had put in a lot of work this winter because I had my eyes set on a couple state titles, some school records I hadn’t gotten last year.”
The senior got one week of practice in before the Montana High School Association suspended the spring sports season and ultimately canceled it due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But Fulbright is still training as if the season was happening. A month ago, he signed with the University of Idaho of the Big Sky Conference for cross country and track.
“It’s great to have another goal, that all my goals didn’t just stop with the cancellation of spring sports,” Fulbright said. “I still have something to look forward to.”
The week of March 9 was when many Americans began to feel the severity of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Many sports seasons and tournaments were suspended or canceled that week, to the point where the Montana high school state basketball tournaments were one of the few live sporting events being played in the world.
Despite the chaos, Montana track teams continued to conduct practice throughout the week. Fulbright and his teammates joked that their practice on Friday, March 13 would be their last of the season.
“We’d seen all these other things getting canceled, but we definitely thought, ‘We’re in Montana. We’re so far away from everything. Nothing’s going to happen to us,’” Fulbright said.
Fulbright never lost hope that the spring season would resume in some capacity, even as the suspension was extended and the majority of the United States canceled their seasons (all 50 eventually nixed spring sports). Fulbright’s optimism was squashed when the MHSA officially ended the season on April 22.
“It’s just a bummer that this opportunity isn’t there anymore, both for me and for others,” Fulbright said. “I guess ‘bummer’ is an understatement.”
Fulbright felt a sense of “what could have been” even before the cancellation. Last May, he placed third in the State A boys 1,600 and finished less than three seconds behind the winner, Taylor, who also won the 3,200. Fulbright crossed the finish line less than two seconds after Taylor in that race.
Frenchtown’s Tyler Schmautz, a Montana State signee, placed second in last year’s State A boys 1,600, so Fulbright was hardly guaranteed two state titles this spring. But Fulbright had a great chance to earn at least one first-place trophy.
Fulbright found some clarity in the midst of so much uncertainty. After debating whether to choose Idaho or Carroll, he verbally committed to the Vandals in March and signed his letter of intent on April 3.
Not only will Fulbright get to compete at the Division I level, he might be running competitively again in a few months. COVID-19 could derail the fall sports season, of course, but Fulbright is not thinking about that possibility right now.
Moscow, Idaho, gives Fulbright a sense of stability and hope in a world where those are hard commodities to find.
“The coaches focus so much on not only athletics and academics but also character,” Fulbright said. “I just know I’m gonna be surrounded by a great group of people, so I’m really looking forward to being there.”