BOZEMAN — As the Bozeman School District expands from one Class AA school to two in the coming 14 months, a new activities director will be overseeing that transition.
Mark Ator will move from Colstrip, where he has spent the past 29 years, including 20 as athletic director, to the Gallatin Valley to supervise activities at Bozeman High, replacing retiring activities director Jerry Reisig. When Gallatin High opens in the fall of 2020, Ator will supervise those activities, as well.
“The decision to leave Colstrip was hard. I have coached a lot of good kids, taught a lot of good kids over 29 years, worked with a lot of good people. It was a hard decision,” Ator told MTN Sports. “We just felt like Bozeman is a special place and a great place for a family to live. That was it. We looked at it and we decided it was a chance to do something different in a new and exciting place.”
“I know he’s excited at the potential challenges that exist here in Bozeman,” added Bozeman superintendent Rob Watson. “I think he’s excited for the opportunity to overcome some of those challenges. We’re excited to have him here, as well.”
Watson said Ator separated himself from a pool of approximately 30 candidates. Six finalists interviewed, and Ator emerged throughout the process. Watson ultimately recommended Ator’s hiring at Monday’s school board meeting, and the board unanimously approved.
“(Ator’s) experience, 20 years as an AD was a big factor,” Watson said. “We had several rounds of interviews with various stakeholders — coaches, teachers, booster club, those sorts of folks. Mark made a really good connection with almost everybody that he met, which told me that he’s pretty good at building relationships
“The last thing I‘d mention is that he has a wealth of experience with the Montana High School Association, including some leadership roles with their board. As we think about splitting Bozeman High into two schools in the next 14 months or so, it was important that we had somebody that had some connections at MHSA, because we’re going to have to sort through what that looks with two athletic programs in our community.”
In addition to his 29 years at Colstrip, Ator has been active with the Montana High School Association. He was on the executive board for four years, the first three as the Class B representative and the final year as the board president.
Making the move to Class AA will add more responsibility for Ator. Colstrip moved from Class A to Class B in 2005, a transition Ator worked through. The Colts and Fillies have participated in Class B sports since.
Bozeman High is currently the largest Class AA school and offers sports — like soccer, swimming and tennis — not available at Colstrip. In 2020, Ator will oversee two Class AA schools with coordinators in place at each to help with day-to-day activities.
“The chance to be a part of helping with the staffing of a new high school is exciting,” Ator said. “Then the challenge of making sure that both athletic programs continue to do well. Bozeman’s done very well in the last couple years in just about everything, and the goal is to make sure that both schools continue to compete at a high level. It’s exciting because a lot of kids will have a lot of opportunities.”
Bozeman High has developed into a Class AA powerhouse, recently claiming wrestling and boys basketball state championships during the winter sports season. Colstrip has had plenty of recent success, as well, but it doesn’t offer students the chance to participate in soccer, swimming or tennis.
“(Ator will) have to manage some activities here that he doesn’t currently have in Colstrip,” Watson said. “I think the second one, what I just alluded to, is, splitting our program into activities programs across two high schools will be a challenge for him, because we have to identify coaches, obviously, first. And then all the organizational stuff that goes along with activity programming like schedules, transportation, resources for the new teams, like equipment and uniforms, those sorts of things.”
One area where Ator will bring experience is the hosting of postseason events. In District 3B, Colstrip regularly hosted conference volleyball and basketball tournaments. Ator was also instrumental in organizing the Southern B divisional basketball tournaments at Rimrock Auto Arena in Billings.
Bozeman High doesn’t have the facilities to host state tournaments, but Watson anticipates Bozeman eventually hosting Eastern AA divisional basketball tournaments. Class AA added divisional basketball tournaments prior to the 2017-18 season and is adding divisional softball tournaments this spring.
“I will miss hosting tournaments. It’s fun, there’s no doubt it. The intensity brought forth by everything is pretty special, it’s fun,” said Ator, who was named the Montana athletic director of the year in January. “Hopefully we can do that in Bozeman. I’ll have to wait and see with the community, in terms of what we can do with both schools. And we’ll be working with Belgrade, too. That’s the one thing, I look forward to working with (Belgrade athletic director) Rick Phillips. We’re already talking about things we can do in the Gallatin Valley. Hopefully having tournaments and divisionals, state track meets, wrestling meets, all those things, hopefully they’re in the future for Bozeman.”
While Ator joins the staff at Bozeman, it’s a bittersweet goodbye for Reisig, who has served the Hawks for a number of years.
“What can I say? Jerry’s got a longstanding history with our district — started off as a teacher and coach, ended his historic career as our activities director,” Watson said. “Done an excellent job in that role and really helped us get set up for this transition. It was great to have his leadership to get ready for this transition.”
Watson, too, is in the final weeks of his tenure in Bozeman. He’s moving to Missoula to serve as the Missoula County Public Schools superintendent.