HELENA — When the Montana High School Association holds its annual meeting on Monday in Butte, several in the audience will be called on stage to accept various awards. Those honorees range from activities directors to former Montana High School Association employees, but one award-winner called a court room home.
Attorney Jock Anderson represented the MHSA for nearly 40 years, serving as legal counsel in a variety of cases, from those involving Title IX, disability, eligibility and many more topics, which Anderson says have changed over the years.
According to the MHSA, Jock Anderson “successfully defended the constitutionality of most of our major eligibility rules in front of the Montana Supreme Court.” Anderson also assisted the MHSA and its member schools by serving on various rules review committees over the years, making sure the Association’s rules and standards were updated from a legal standpoint.
MTN Sports sat down with Anderson, a former athlete and longtime fan of high school athletics, in his Helena office to recap his four-decade career, the most intriguing cases and how he plans to stay involved with high school athletics, even in retirement.
MTN Sports: In chatting with the MHSA, them telling us their longtime lawyer was retiring, they said that way back in the day they were either one of your first or the first clients that you picked up. How did that all come about?
Anderson: “That’s true. At the time, the High School Association was represented by my longtime law firm, Gough, Shanahan (Law Firm), and my first day with the firm was on the first business day of 1980 and when I came into the office, the first file that was on my desk was an injunction hearing. That’s where it started.”
MTN Sports: When you got into this, did you expect that you would be representing something like that, an organization (like the MHSA)?
Anderson: “No, I don’t suppose I had any thoughts one way or the other. Representing the Montana High School Association has certainly been a pleasure and a privilege, and I was just in the right place at the right time. I feel lucky for having the opportunity.”
MTN Sports: Before we started recording, you were telling us that it was maybe more challenging back then, there was more to it back then. Can you tell us why that might be?
Anderson: “More challenging might not be the right words, we were certainly in court a lot more often then. I think over time what’s happened is the MHSA has paid attention, accommodated its rules to a lot of the situations that used to take us into court. I think the rest of society is probably more sensitive to the role of the courts and things. Most of the things that used to take me into court are now resolved at the board level. On the other side of it, when we are in court, there’s usually a lot more at stake. It used to be that we were just arguing over whether someone could play volleyball, but now that the low-hanging fruit has all been decided, we’re usually talking about the fundamental powers of the MHSA and their right to exist. Less cases, but more pressure.”
MTN Sports: What were some of those unique things that you had to help the MHSA out with, a male wanting to play volleyball or something along those lines.
Anderson: “Sure there were a few along the way. In the 1980s, the so-called Ridgeway case (1982 Ridgeway v. Montana High School Association), Montana turned out to be on the cutting edge of the whole idea of Title IX and equity in sports. That litigation went on for years, and when it was settled, it was a template for the rest of the country. Sex equity was certainly one big one. Disabilities law, also in the 80s, there was federal legislation protecting the disabled and that rolled over into sports, so we had a whole decade or so of cases trying to hammer out what accomodations had to be made for the learning disabled or physically disabled. Most of those have made their way through the system now.”
MTN Sports: I know JoAnne Austin has since retired at the MHSA, but Title IX and gender equity is a huge part of what she was involved in, can you believe it’s come from where it was then to now, seeing these female wrestlers placing on the podium? Girls basketball, they’re going off to college, in state and out of state. The opportunities they have more are certainly different than it was back then.
Anderson: “Oh certainly. And it’s all for the best. I even look back on my own attitudes back in the 80s about what was fair and unfair, and I can’t believe some of the positions that I held at the time. In terms of the future, nothing would surprise me. It’s an evolution and we’ll just see where it goes.”
MTN Sports: You’ve been their representative, but the MHSA has seen Jim Haugen, Jo Austin, Mark Beckman, Brian Michelotti and so on, you’ve been the mainstay while they’re cycling in and out over there. Is it tough to keep up with who’s in the building?
Anderson: “Yeah, I out-lived them all. From my experience, the MHSA has been blessed with a pretty steady hand at the keel all these years. Jo Austin, to drop her name, is certainly one of the experts in sex equity in this country. Jim Haugen, Mark Beckman, the MHSA has been fortunate to have them all.”
MTN Sports: Thirty-eight years, 39 years now, later, the retiring, is that a sigh of relief? You don’t have to deal with it all?
Anderson: “No. Well, yeah I’m happy to get out of the business, but I’ll miss the High School Association. It’s been a privilege.”
MTN Sports: Their big awards ceremony is coming up…
Anderson: “I hate to hear you say big. This was supposed to be a little something in the mail saying, ‘Thank you.’”
MTN Sports: That’s not the case, as you’ll find out on Monday, that’s not exactly the case. They aren’t telling anyone else, people will show up Monday and find out that they won an award, but when Mark Beckman called and said ‘Hey, we want you to come down to our annual meeting in Butte and honor you for all the work you’ve done for us,’ does it get better than having the people you represented all these years, for nearly four decades, want to make sure you get honored like that?
Anderson: “No, it doesn’t get any better than that. It’s always nice to be recognized, but particularly so when you’re recognized by an organization I have so much respect for. It’s a great honor.”
MTN Sports: Where is retirement taking us?
MTN Sports: And for the people that don’t know where that is?
Anderson: “Right by Philipsburg.”
MTN Sports: What are the plans? Will it be fishing, hiking, hunting, sitting in the chair with a drink in your hand?
Anderson: “None of those things. Plenty of projects to do around the property. My wife and I will do some traveling. We’ll just play it by ear. I would like to stay involved with high school athletics and probably will. It’s mostly spectating these days. I was just blessed with a great appreciation for extra-curricular activities, athletics in particular. My abilities were modest, but I enjoyed it and I’ll stay involved any way I can.”
MTN Sports: What were some of those sports you played growing up?
Anderson: “I played them all. All of them on a mediocre level.”