BILLINGS — It was one of those days that couldn’t decide if it was going to be cool or warm, depending on the cloud cover and how gentle or strong the breeze was blowing.
In other words, a typical spring day at Billings Skyview High School, perched atop its stand of ground on the northern edge of Billings.
Also typical for a day at Skyview, activities coordinator Shawn Holt mingled between the track and field meet and the home softball game that were being held simultaneously. Decked out in shorts, he was either hearkening back to his Hawaii homeland (the Holts trace their island roots back to 1830) or had a bout of wishful thinking.
Either way, the topic of weather came up as he talked about his final weeks at Skyview. Holt is retiring at the conclusion of the school year after 31 years in a variety of jobs at the school, beginning in 1990, two years after the school building opened.
“I get the weather reports from family,” he said, watching the Falcons softball team take on Billings West. “They think they’re pretty funny. ‘You know, it was 57 degrees here in Kula and we’re wearing jackets. What’s it like in Billings? Oh, that’s right it’s 22-below.'"
The promise of warmer temperatures had its pull, but could never pry Holt to a return home.
He left the island after high school to do some growing up, he said. Holt landed in Oregon, graduating from Willamette University and Portland State, and then began his education and coaching career, which included stops in Salem, Stayton and West Linn, Oregon, before settling in Billings.
Along the way, he met his wife Kathy, who grew up in Bozeman and graduated from Missoula Hellgate, and raised two children, Sam and Molly.
“Both of our kids got great educations here. They got to participate in sports and I got to watch them,” he said. “They grew up in our gym, out on our fields.”
Holt first taught vocational special education at Skyview and was an assistant football coach with Ron Lebsock, an assistant wrestling coach with Dave Maier, and coached track with Jim Forseth.
He recalled some of the early athletes at the school — “all great athletes and better people,” he said — and how he’s enjoyed seeing Skyview graduates go on to do big things.
By 1994 Holt transitioned to the school’s activities coordinator and he’s had that position ever since, along with teaching American government. Just like he claimed not to miss the Hawaii weather, Holt said he hasn’t regretted opting for the longer hours put in by and the constant fires put out by a school’s athletic director.
In fact, he’s already volunteered to work next season’s Eastern AA volleyball tournament that’s scheduled for Billings. Though, jokingly, he said as soon as the offer to work the tourney left his mouth he thought, "Why did you just say that?"
Holt has noticed changes throughout the years, of course, and it probably surprises no one that he mentioned how difficult it is to coach these days. Hours are longer, seasons are longer — is there really an offseason anymore? — and parents are more vocal.
While the number of parents who are unhappy with coaches is small, he said, they’re still having an impact overall.
“We need to recruit more coaches, and it’s harder to get people to coach,” Holt said. “The challenges … the time commitments … it’s just getting harder and harder, but we’re starting to bounce back in our building.”
Toby Hill, who coached the Skyview boys basketball team for seven seasons, will take over for Holt. Hill started at Skyview as a science teacher in 2007 and recently served as gym coordinator, helping Holt oversee activities at the school.
Holt plans on sticking around Billings for a while. Both children live in Bozeman, and with nearly a handful of grandchildren to spend time with, there’s a lot of catching up to do.
Molly, Holt's daughter, reminded her father that he’s probably watched more than 5,000 Skyview games. Holt said his long journey has been “pretty amazing” and he "wouldn’t trade a second" of his last 38 years in education, even if the last year has been extra challenging due to COVID-19.
“It’s been a privilege,” he said. “I know people don’t speak like that anymore, but it has been. It’s been a privilege to work with some really great people, teachers, administrators, ADs, some of the highest quality folks I’ve ever worked with.”
A few minutes later Holt started making his way over to the Skyview track meet for one last check-in before this day was done, one day closer to aloha.