BILLINGS — Dave Breitbach didn’t follow a specific blueprint toward his distinguished career at Baker High School.
After graduating from Baker in 1975 and spending four years playing college football for legendary coach Hank Biesiot at Dickinson State in North Dakota, Breitbach embarked on a stint as a permit agent in the seismic industry securing land contracts in the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains regions.
“Great money,” he said. “Probably twice what I got paid for teaching. But I always kept coming back wanting to coach and be around kids.”
You can’t put a price tag on the 36 years Breitbach spent affecting young lives as a teacher, coach and administrator with the Spartans, during which he was an assistant coach for six state football championships and the head coach for Baker’s first boys basketball crown in 30 years in 2000.
But the 2020-21 academic year is Breitbach’s last. He’s ready to hang up his whistle and retire from his posts as Baker’s principal and athletic director.
The past 14 or so months have been especially challenging for Breitbach — and all educators — and he says now is the right time to step away.
“I’ve been in it a long time,” he said. “COVID really tired me down over the past year. I’m not all that great with technology, and things are moving fast that way, especially in the classroom. It was hard for me to keep up with what they’re trying to do and monitor things.
“As athletic director, fan limits and eliminating fans … it was tough. It really was. Canceling games and trying to pick up games … I felt even in my old age I’d always forget things, but I really felt I was forgetting things there. It’s been a lot of fun, no doubt about it. But I was just getting tired. COVID just beat me up.”
No one will blame Breitbach for stepping away now, not when they consider all he’s given.
Breitbach insists he was just along for the ride at Baker during its greatest run of athletic success, but his commitment to coaching three sports and creating a hard-working culture in the weight room, which seemed ahead of its time, can’t be discounted.
Assisting hall of fame head coach Don Schillinger, Breitbach helped the Spartans build a Class B football dynasty with titles in 1999, 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2007. When Schillinger stepped down after the 2010 season with six total titles, Breitbach took over and guided the program back to the championship game in 2013.
“Donny was a great coach,” said Breitbach, who has also served as an assistant track and field coach. “Early in my career we started weight room classes and got those going. We had four or five weight classes a day back in the day when hardly anybody had weight classes. Everybody was a part of it.
“I was a three-sport coach and we all worked together. The athletes would stay with you from season to season. It was quite different than it is today. I could be with those kids in the weight room all year long for years and years. You develop relationships and bonds. We had great athletes and great coaches and great people to be around.”
One of Breitbach’s most difficult moments in Baker, undoubtedly, was the death of Spartans standout athlete Luke Gonsioroski in 2017.
Gonsioroski’s story received national attention in 2016 when he had an eight-pound tumor removed from his chest. A quarterback, Gonsioroski returned to the football team that fall, but he succumbed to the cancer nearly a year later.
“You just can't say enough good things about him and how he went about his life and what he stood for,” Breitbach told The Billings Gazette and 406mtsports.com at the time.
Nevertheless, the good moments have outweighed the difficult times for Breitbach. Another highlight was the construction of a new football and track and field facility at the school in 2012, which Breitbach said has been a big benefit for the community.
Baker alum Jace Schillinger was a member of the Spartans’ football championship team in 1999 and its boys basketball title-winning squad in 2000. It was a whirlwind year for Schillinger and his fellow seniors, and Breitbach played no small role.
The head boys basketball coach, Breitbach had his team practice outside in the wind and cold at a middle school court the day of its Class B title game, going over sets and plays and the scouting of that night’s opponent, Cut Bank.
Unconventional? Sure. The result? A 65-47 Spartans win.
“Having a football season like we did, that kind of carried over to basketball,” Schillinger said. “I’ll be honest with you, and I think Dave would admit this: I don’t think we were great basketball players but we were a really good team. That’s a credit to Dave and the coaches he had around him. He could get us to play hard. I’ll say this: I don’t know if anybody that I’ve ever worked with in high school sports prepares like Dave does.”
Schillinger added: “It’s a sad day for Baker because he’s kind of the last of those coaches that were there for so long and were involved in every sport, which is such a rare thing anymore. He’s kind of the last one that was there that was part of all the championships. It’s a sad day for Baker knowing they’re losing such a good educator and coach. But he’s also a really good person, and I think he had a way of lifting kids up and being positive with them. He had a way of doing it where kids just really wanted to play hard for him.”
When asked what he’ll do next, Breitbach said he plans to remain in Baker where he’ll have more time to relax — and reflect on a lifetime of memories.
He’s earned it.
“I don’t know what I’ll do,” Breitbach said. “Maybe I’ll go golfing with Donny or he’ll teach me how to fish or something like that. I don’t have a plan. We’ll see what happens. Where the wind blows, I’ll let it take me.”