GREAT FALLS — Great Falls Central Catholic High School re-opened in 2001 after being closed for 27 years.
Those early days were spent on the campus of the present-day University of Providence, then school was held in modular buildings for a few years until a new high school was ready to open in 2008.
What a difference a decade makes.
GFCC has seen continuous growth since then and the Montana High School Association recently recommended the Mustang athletics teams move from Class C to Class B in the fall of 2019.
Growth is a good thing for any Class C school and it’s a change the Mustangs are embracing.
“Change is always good,” said GFCC athletic director Jamie Stevens. “It’s good because it wards off complacency and we don’t want to be complacent ever. And I think a new challenge keeps our athletes on their toes and keeps them having that drive to succeed, and the excitement of meeting new people and creating new friends.”
The most recent enrollment numbers available from the Office of Public Instruction has Great Falls Central at 125 students, nearly doubling in size over the past decade.
“We started looking and thinking about this, probably about four years ago,” Stevens said. “We knew with our steady growth that this is something that was very real. Especially when the MHSA moved the Class C cutoff number down from 119 to 107 we knew that this was going to be a really quick reality to us.”
Central will join District 1B in 2019 for all sports except football, where the Mustangs will remain in the 8-Man North. When enrollment inevitably climbs over the 140-student mark, they will have to move up to 11-man football. There is currently no room to expand their current football field from 80 to 100 yards, so Stevens and administrators are already planning to find or build a new facility.
“We are blessed to have some property around us,” Stevens said. “So that is something that we have looked at, plans for a stadium. Currently where our football field is at, there really isn’t a lot of room for growth for an 11-man field. So we are looking and thinking about that. The public schools have always been so good to us, so there may be some conversations with them about Memorial Stadium maybe in the future, but for now we’re excited to stay in 8-Man.”
Coaches and players have already started preparing for the transition.
“They’re already planning and already looking at that,” added Stevens. “Already starting to make some tweaks in how they train the kids and their expectations, so the ball is rolling. We know it’s go time. It gives us a year to start preparing and looking to the future.”
Ultimately the move is bittersweet for the Mustangs. As in all of Class C, teams in your district become your family. Trading in friends and rivals for new ones isn’t always easy, but Central is looking forward to new challenges.
“The athletes are ready,” said Stevens. “They’re ready for the next level. We’ve seen some successes at the Class C level, and they know they’re going to be face to face with some powerhouses that are very close to us like Fairfield and Choteau. But they’re excited.”