After 24 years of coaching track and an additional three years of teaching, Derek Schulz closed out his Whitefish Schools career on a high note, leading his girls track team their first state title in 35 years.
But he says it’s the time spent helping kids get better that mattered most as a coach.
“I love the spirit of watching kids improve. I love seeing the smile on their face. I love seeing them work hard,” Schulz told the Pilot. “I love the relationships I’ve built with those kids and a lot of the assistant coaches over the years. We’ve been really competitive over the years and we’ve been mostly successful, and this year was an example of that. I’ll miss that.”
Schulz, who taught history and American government at the high school, retired at the end of the school year both as a teacher and a head coach.
A Flathead High School 1985 graduate, Schulz played baseball and attended school at Washington State University, Big Bend Community College and the College of Idaho before a Rotary International Scholarship sent him overseas.
The scholarship placed him in Exeter, England, for a year, where he lived and studied with students from all around the world.
“The rule of this house was that every person that lived there had to be from a different country,” he said of his dormitory in England. “That experience was really advantageous when I wanted to become a teacher, because the critical component is the relationships and building the trust and understanding of anyone that you’re relating to. In that case it was people all over the world with all different cultural backgrounds.”
While still in England, Schulz interviewed over the phone for a half-time history teacher position at WHS. He returned back to the Flathead upon graduation and taught in that position for a year, moved to Whitefish Central School for two years and then returned to WHS for the role he stayed with until retirement.
Since starting at WHS, Schulz says a lot has changed, particularly in the way information is delivered and taught. As a history teacher, that’s been a plus, he says.
“Technology has clearly changed my content area an awful lot and made it far easier,” he said, while packing up his classroom recently. “Not to say I don’t have my challenges with technology, but the information that we can access and how relative and important and current it is makes teaching history and government a lot easier than when I first started.”
“When I was in school, we cut current events out of a four-day-old newspaper, and that was your current event. That’s not how it works anymore,” he added.
As a government teacher, Schulz said he also felt a responsibility to leave students with the tools they need to be good citizens.
“The goal was that when you graduated and you completed high school at Whitefish High, from a social studies point of view, I just wanted them to be as informed as possible, and hopefully as active as a citizen as possible,” he said.
Schulz worked with a lot of students through the years, either as a coach or as a teacher. He estimates that through his classes, by graduation time he’d taught roughly 90 percent of every senior.
All the relationships he formed with students were special, he says, but he also enjoyed the unique chance to coach and teach his own daughters.
Lauren, Marlow and Allie Schulz all ran track for the Bulldogs before going on to compete in college. Lauren, the youngest, will start at Montana State University this fall.
“For nine years I had a daughter on the team, for a couple of years two [daughters]. It was really fun, they were successful,” Schulz said. “It was challenging too, to be the dad and the coach and try to figure out which hat you’re supposed to wear and at what time.”
“Coaching my daughters was a highlight,” he added. “That’s not why I coached, it just so happened that I coached a sport that they wanted to do.”