BILLINGS — Montana High School Association Executive Director Mark Beckman announced his retirement during a board meeting in Helena on Monday.
Beckman has served with the MHSA for 25 years.
He will be retiring on June 30, 2022. Beckman plans on retiring in his hometown of Butte.
"It's been a great run. I really enjoyed working for the MHSA," Beckman told The Billings Gazette and 406mtsports.com. "It's been 25 years and I thought that is a good number and I'm going to be 65 (in July) and I want to go and enjoy some things after work. I thought it is just a good time to transition out."
Beckman was the assistant director for seven years and spent the last 18 years as the executive director.
In 1997, Beckman became the MHSA assistant director. He had been activities director at Anaconda High prior.
Beckman succeeded Jim Haugen, who was retiring, as executive director on July 1, 2004.
Before joining the MHSA, Beckman was a high school teacher, coach and activities director. Beckman was a boys and girls junior high and high school basketball coach with stops at Butte Central and Anaconda.
Overall, Beckman has spent 35 years in education. He has also coached Babe Ruth and American Legion baseball.
“I would like to thank the current MHSA board and all the board members I have served with over the past 25 years. I also want to thank my staff over the last 18 years for their dedicated and determined work on behalf of MHSA member schools and MOA officials,” Beckman said in a statement. “These committed employees assure that each area of their responsibilities is well taken care of so that coaches, players, fans and officials have the best possible experiences during regular season and postseason sporting events and during fine art activities.
“Also, I wouldn’t be where I am today without all the support of my family, friends and all the people I worked with and for at Butte Central and Anaconda. And a special shout out to all my colleagues I have worked with from MHSA member schools over the years including administrators, coaches and officials. I value those relationships and friendships.”
Beckman said the MHSA is in good shape and that helped make his decision to step down easier.
"We have a great staff. Our staff is really good and our current board is really good," he said. "I know the Association will be left in good hands."
According to Beckman, the MHSA executive director position will be posted in the next few days and a search will be conducted. Beckman said the next executive director would likely start on July 1.
Over the years, Beckman served a four-year term on the National Federation of High School State Associations Board of Directors, as well as serving as that board’s president during the 2019-2020 school year. He also served on the first NFHS Network Board of Directors, the NFHS Strategic Planning Committee and the NFHS Citizenship Committee. On June 30 in San Antonio, Beckman will be honored as the NFHS Service Citation Award winner for Section 8.
“Mark is not only a leader in Montana, but he has become a leader nationally through his national board presences he’s been a part of,” said MHSA associate director Brian Michelotti. “It has helped Montana high school activities and sports in a lot of different ways.”
Beckman is also on the Big Sky State Games board of directors. He is also a past president of the BSSG board of directors.
BSSG executive director Liana Susott said Beckman brings a wide range of attributes to his position with the grassroots sports festival.
“He brings all of his experience with all the different sports and all of his ability to work with officials, sponsors, and just the whole community and the whole state,” Susott said.
During his tenure as executive director, Beckman also helped the MHSA navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic. The MHSA schedule is now back to normal after having a basketball state tournament canceled after the semifinals and co-state champions awarded in 2020 due to the virus. The 2020 spring sports season was also canceled as a result of the crisis.
The novel coronavirus presented a major curve to the country and to the sports world as there was much to be learned about the virus. Among the issues in sports, there were questions about how to conduct games and practices safely, how to manage crowds, and if there should be different approaches for indoor and outdoor sports, among many others. Beckman helped guide the MHSA and its membership through the process.
Michelotti said Beckman will be remembered for many positives, but his work in leading the organization through the pandemic stands out.
“The list is too long to mention, but I think No. 1 in recent history is how he led our membership through COVID and with the ability for our schools to continue to participate safely, whether it be with crowds or without crowds,” Michelotti said. “And then, coming out of COVID to get back to some level of normalcy.”
Beckman said working through the COVID-19 pandemic was the most "challenging" time during his career with the MHSA.
"In my 25 years it was the most challenging time," he said. "We are very fortunate to have had good board members during that time and, really, very good administrators. We all worked very well together to make sure there were opportunities for our student-activity participants. It was really tough to put in the COVID considerations and requirements and all the restrictions and things we dealt with. In the long run, all except for the spring, we competed, the kids played and we crowned champions. Really in the end, it was successful in relationship to what was going on at the time."
Susott said when the BSSG was held during the summer of 2020, she referred to Beckman for guidance.
“He has helped me tremendously, especially through COVID,” said Susott, who was in her first year as BSSG executive director during the 2020 event. “I was calling him every other day getting his suggestions and recommendations. He is one of the best.
“Mark cares about all sports, the communities, the whole state of Montana.”
During Beckman’s tenure, the all-class state volleyball tournament began in 2004 at Montana State’s Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. Girls wrestling was added for the 2020-21 season and baseball was approved by MHSA membership at the annual meeting this past January. Baseball is set to begin during the 2022-23 school year. The MHSA membership also voted to add a shot clock for basketball for the upcoming school year at the January meeting.
“Probably Mark, I’ve worked with him for the past darn near couple decades and his leadership and his attention to detail and the way he handled the issues in the MSHA were outstanding,” said Michelotti. “He has been a great leader and treated everyone in the membership, his staff, his board, with the utmost respect and I congratulate him on his retirement and wish him the best and he will definitely be missed across the sports and activities world in the state of Montana.”
Beckman proposed, organized and managed the inaugural all-class volleyball tourney. Now, the tourney is one of the benchmarks of the high school season.
"I was pretty proud of that one, just because it is one of our great events," Beckman said. "It's like all-class wrestling, just a great event."
As far as possible new activities to watch for in the future, Beckman said don't be surprised if e-sports is one day contested in Montana.
"We looked at various things and coming down the pike, the next thing that those that are ahead of me that they could be working on will probably be e-sports," he said. "That seems to be gaining a lot of traction across the country in regards to high schools, and colleges now are offering scholarships. I get quite a few inquiries about when we are going to do it. ... Eventually you might see e-sports."
Butte High School AD and assistant principal Chuck Merrifield has worked with Beckman on many occasions over the 19 years Merrifield has been Butte's AD.
Merrifield said Beckman "made his mark on Montana sports."
"His mark will be felt quite a ways down the road," Merrifield said. "In the fact that he was the one that was the leader in getting baseball in to Montana. It is not in yet, but got in under his watch. And girls wrestling, and the all-class volleyball tournament. There are too many numerous things to point out.
"He was a great leader. The high schools and High School Association were in a great position under his watch."
For 18 years, Beckman has been the Montana Officials Association commissioner. Beckman was himself a basketball referee for eight years beginning in 1975.
"I really enjoyed working with the officials as the MOA commissioner," he said.
Beckman is currently on the Butte American Legion baseball board and plans to continue his role with the Legion program. He also plans on doing some of the things he didn't get to do while working.
"For a while, probably just enjoy life and do a little traveling," he said. "We like to go to Arizona, and play a little golf. We like to go down to the Phoenix Open and watch some golf."
For Beckman, he had a good time employed in a job he loved.
"You think back and it has been, 25 years seems like a long time, but geez it feels like it went real fast to be honest with you."