KALISPELL — Kalispell Flathead’s Perrin family has been attacking the Class AA track and field record books over the past decade, but their obsession dates even further back.
David Vidal ran for the Braves’ state championship teams in the early 2000s and set the State AA record in the 1,600-meter run. That set the stage for the Perrins’ oldest son, Zach.
“I don’t know if he’s aware of this, but David Vidal’s name in our household was talked about quite a bit,” said Mike Perrin, the father of the three distance-running sons. “Talking with Paul Jorgenson and, of course, coach Mike McClean, who’s now at Rocky (Mountain College) in Billings, knows the great history in this valley, Flathead High School, with some really, really good runners. David Vidal, Seth Watkins, a few of those other guys, their numbers really helped get Zach, as well as Jake, really propelled them in this sport and gave them some goals to go after.”
Zach set the high bar for his younger brothers, Jake and Ben. On his way to breaking Vidal’s Flathead records, Zach was the first in the Perrin family to be named the Gatorade athlete of the year.
Jake, though, would set the bar even higher, breaking the State AA record in both the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs his senior year. Although he didn’t commit to running until later in his high school career, he left quite the impression on his coaches.
“Jake is an interesting story in that when he was a sophomore, he wasn’t going to be a runner,” longtime Kalispell Flathead cross country and distance coach Paul Jorgenson said. “Sometime during his late sophomore year, he decided he would be a runner. When he broke two state records in the same meet, that was something else. That was not expected.”
Both Zach and Jake moved on to run for Division I programs — Zach at Colorado and Jake at Gonzaga — leaving their youngest brother, Ben, to pick up the slack for the Perrins at Flathead. He admittedly feels a bit of pressure to live up to the expectations of the great Flathead runners before him, including his brothers.
“I feel pressure, mostly from myself,” Ben said. “I think it just kind of, when you’re running for Flathead, you realize the tradition and all the guys that have come before you. You just want to kind of carry on the torch, I guess, of trying to run hard, keep breaking records.”
But Ben is leaving his own legacy at Flathead and in the Montana record books. He was named the 2018-19 Gatorade cross country runner of the year, as he won every single race his senior season. Now he’s taking aim at Jake’s state records, and it’s been driving him to dig even deeper.
“Definitely, yeah. That’s been what I’ve been thinking about for most of the winter,” Ben said of Jake’s records. “It’s nice to have those things that kind of keep you going a little bit. Definitely really excited to try to go for that.”
Whether he breaks Jake’s records at the state meet or not, Ben will continue his runner career at Montana State. With both Zach and Jake running at the Division I level, Ben has picked their brains on how to continually improve and prepare for the next level.
“I get a ton of help from them, it’s super nice. I’m really blessed, because they have all that experience in college, hearing it from coaches up at a higher level,” Ben said. “Having that is just an advantage I’m lucky to have, I guess. I’m super grateful for that. Then just training with them when they come home, trying to keep up with them.”
“He’s constantly talking to his brothers, Zach and Jake. He gets a lot of training tips,” Mike said. “One thing these guys have all collaborated on is, don’t go to dad about training tips. They talk to each other quite a bit. They know that I know absolutely nothing about running, and that’s how they like it.”
Kalispell Flathead has had tremendous tradition in the distance events over the years, but the Perrin family has left a substantial mark on the program.
“They’re right up there with the best,” Jorgenson said. “They definitely have pushed each other. Zach was our first pretty good Perrin boy, and he came through our program, and his brothers saw what he was doing and followed suit. Ben has done the same thing. He’s very successful. All three of them work hard. They have talent, but they also work really hard.”
“When you go in the Flathead school, I think its humbling for mom and dad to look up and see the Gatorade banners up there with your kids’ names on there. It’s something that I don’t think any parent would expect,” Mike said. “Everybody every time I post something about the kids on Facebook or social media, I always get the, ‘You guys have got to be extremely proud,’ and we are extremely proud.”