Fairfield head coach Dustin Gordon talks to his team during a timeout. (TOM WYLIE/MTN Sports)

GREAT FALLS – The Montana Coaches Association Coaches Clinic is an annual indicator that summer is nearing its end. Coaches from around the state and nation descend on Great Falls for three days of speeches, presentations, drill instructions and more.

The clinic officially kicks off Wednesday at 8 a.m., but many coaches have already gotten together for another part of the tradition: the annual Dean Gamradt Golf Classic in Fairfield.

Gamradt, the legendary basketball coach at Fairfield and Dutton-Brady, organized the golf get-together years ago for a group of his coaching friends who were making the trip to Great Falls for the clinic. In the years since, the golf tournament has gradually grown to include more and more coaches. Current Fairfield girls basketball coach Dustin Gordon, who plays a big role in hosting the tournament, now estimates that 12 of the 15 four-person teams in this year’s tournament are made up of coaches from around Montana.

“It’s not huge, but there’s some guys that come back year after year after year that enjoy coming out,” Gordon said last week. “We still call it the Gambradt Classic. He still comes out and makes a guest appearance. In fact, he might play with my team this year just for the hell of it. It’s a good time. It’s a Tuesday-before-the-clinic type of thing. Most of the guys who play in it are from far away.”

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The tournament is less about the golf and more about the comradery. The entire clinic, which is in its 50th year, takes on a similar role. Sure, there are opportunities for coaches to learn from their peers and hone their crafts, but they also share stories and relate with each other like only they can.

“We all have the same problems, whether it’s parents or our spouses having to deal with being married to a coach or kids we’re having trouble with,” Gordon said. “It is a fraternity, and it’s nice to be able to sit down with other people who know exactly what you’re talking about. It also develops a level of respect between you and other coaches that you have all these things in common. You get together and you’re locking horns on Friday night and Saturday night, then you find out you have way more things in common than not. It’s just great to get to know people on that level, so that when you are locking horns, you still get together and shake hands and visit afterward. And when the game’s over, the game’s over.”

Gordon, who led Fairfield to the Class B girls basketball state title in March, won’t be presenting this year. Instead, he’ll be intently listening to speakers like Belt girls basketball coach Jeff Graham. Graham and Gordon have a long friendship, but Gordon still likes to pick up tips and tricks from his colleague.

Dillon boys basketball coach Terry Thomas, another one of Gordon’s favorite presenters, will also be speaking. There are more than 50 coaches – from all sports backgrounds and all across the state and country – speaking at the three-day clinic, including Montana and Montana State football coaches Bob Stitt and Jeff Choate.

Joe Glenn, the former Montana coach, will return to The Treasure State as one of the marquee speakers, as well.

“I like how big (our clinic) is,” Gordon said. “A lot of other states don’t do it quite the same as we do. Ours is a little bit unique. It’s a very comfortable, friendly environment. (MCA executive director) Don Olsen does an unbelievable job running the Coaches Association. Good speakers every year, you learn something, and you get to spend a little time with guys you have a lot of stuff in common with.”

The clinic begins Wednesday morning and concludes on Friday. The MCA will also induct 11 members into their Hall of Fame on Thursday: Scott Filius, Rick Goodman, Steven Handley, Robert Hislop, Lynn McMillan, Dan Nile, Dick Norden, Mike Sauvageau, Tad Schye, Larry Smith, and Iona Stookey.

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