BOISE — Jon Kasper has long been a sports fanatic.
Originally from North Dakota, Kasper moved to Great Falls in the late 1980s and played football for legendary coach Jack Johnson at Great Falls CMR. Upon graduating, Kasper went to the University of Montana, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism.
Kasper got his sports career started at the Great Falls Tribune and Missoulian, spending seven years covering the Griz football team and the Big Sky Conference. A Montana Sportswriter of the Year, Kasper eventually left the newspaper business to join the staff at the Big Sky Conference in 2004.
Kasper has held numerous roles with the Big Sky, but he currently serves as the Senior Associate Commissioner of Championships, a role in which he oversees the planning and coordinating of most Big Sky championships.
Kasper sat down with MTN Sports at the 2019 men’s and women’s basketball championships in Boise earlier this year to discuss the league and his Montana roots for this week’s Sunday Conversation.
MTN Sports: Since we are recording it here at the Big Sky Conference tournaments, how’s it been going here in Boise so far?
Jon Kasper: “I think our first year has exceeded expectations. Obviously it’s something we want to continue to grow. When it’s your first year there’s a lot of things you learn that you just had no idea until you get here. But, man, for the first year, we’re really, really happy. I think the people in Boise are happy, I think our fans our happy, and, most importantly, I think our teams, coaches, administrators are really excited about the future here in Boise.”
MTN Sports: You’ve been a part of the Big Sky Conference for a while now. How did you get involved with the Big Sky?
Kasper: “Well, I covered the league when I worked at the Missoulian as a beat writer, had followed the league when I was in college when I lived in Great Falls. I just got really blessed, to be honest with you, and had a good relationship with a lot of coaches, athletic directors, and when the person that had the job before me was leaving, he called me and said, ‘I think you could do this job and I think you’d be good at it.’ So it worked out for me, and I’ve been blessed to be here — this is my 15th year, which is amazing.”
MTN Sports: What are some of the highs and lows during that 15 years for you?
Kasper: “I think highs have been this neutral-site tournament. It was something that I was kind of given responsibility to take on as the championship director. We had never done it before, and we did it in Reno. Felt we did some good things to build something, but this year has been really gratifying to see it all come together with the events that we have outside, with the branding and with the crowds that we’ve had. We want to fill this arena — that may not happen this year, but I think we’re going to have a great crowd tonight as we sit here 90 minutes away from Eastern Washington playing Montana for the men’s title. We’ve had national championships. I got to go see Northern Arizona win a national title in men’s cross country a couple years ago, and that was our first team national championship other than football, so that was a really great experience. Seeing guys like Damian Lillard and Cooper Kupp play in our league and then go on to have success in the NFL and NBA. In our business, there are lows. It was disappointing some nights in Reno to see not very many people in the stands and to know you did all that hard work and unfortunately, for whatever reason, it didn’t pay off. We’ve gone through a lot of transition in our office the last couple of years, so I’ve seen a lot of colleagues, who are also very good friends, move on to bigger and better things. That’s always hard, because when you’re a staff as small as we are, you really become a family. You’re happy for them that they found something better, but yet you miss them.”
MTN Sports: The fans and media alike just kind of see the end result, the product at these tournaments. How many hours, how much work is it for you guys behind the scenes to get this thing going like it does?
Kasper: “It’s countless hours. We start this process as soon as the previous year ends. I mean, we’re starting it now as we talk to the arena and what we want to try to do. There’s kind of a scoreboard issue here: How can we get that fixed with having another scoreboard with scores that are more visible other than great videoboard that they have here? Those are good problems. Hey, it looks like this is going to work. We’re going to have to figure some different things out for ticketing. I have a guy on my staff named Alex Kelly, who’s our director of championships who took on a lot of responsibility this year, including running, organizing all the outside events. He did a phenomenal job, I’m so proud of him. And I’m just really proud of our staff, the way that we’ve come together this week. We spent a lot of hours in Boise, we were up here every month doing planning meetings, meeting with the arena, meeting with the hotel people, meeting with Downtown Association, to work on all the things that you see happening this week. Once it’s over, we’re going to take a few days off.”
MTN Sports: You’re a Montana guy. Take me back to maybe when your passion, your interest started in sports.
Kasper: “Well, shoot, my passion started when I was probably 6 or 7 years old. I grew up in North Dakota until I moved to Montana when I was an eighth grader, and I moved to Great Falls. I remember that year I moved to Great Falls watching the Big Sky championship from Boise, Idaho in 1989 and thinking, ‘This is where I live now, these are the teams I need to follow and this is my conference.’ I went to my first Montana football game that fall in 1989 in a playoff game and thinking, ‘Wow, this was really, really cool.’ I’ve been a sports junkie all my life. I started working in sports when I was a senior in high school at the Great Falls Tribune for Scott Mansch and George Geise, and then I was fortunate to go to college and pick up there and work part-time at the Missoulian. Bob Meseroll hired me as a full-time writer when I graduated college in 1997. I can’t imagine my life without sports. I feel really lucky that I get to work in sports every single day. In the summers I do love golf, and I love baseball. I’m a huge Milwaukee Brewers fan.”
MTN Sports: You had an illustrious football career at Great Falls CMR. What was it like being a part of that program with Jack Johnson, Dave Dickenson, Ryan Leaf?
Kasper: (laughs) “That’s not true. It was an amazing experience. When I talk to people, I tell them I probably went to like the Permian of Montana. I learned so many things from Jack Johnson in terms of leadership, how to be a man. I feel so blessed that I was able to be a part of that. I was not a superstar. I just feel lucky that I can say, ‘You know what? I played on a team that won a state title, caught a couple touchdown passes from a guy named Ryan Leaf, got to practice with Dave Dickenson when I was a sophomore and he was a senior.’ There’s so many tremendous, tremendous (athletes) that have gone through that program, and I’m not one of them. But I just feel really fortunate that I had that experience to play for Jack and to play at CMR.”
MTN Sports: Thank you, sir. Anything else you would like to say about Montana, the Big Sky Conference?
Kasper: “Montana the state is so near and dear to my heart. I feel this peace every time I go to that state. My brother lives in Billings right now, so I do get up there occasionally. Obviously with my job, I get back to Missoula and Bozeman quite a bit. I love Flathead Lake. I have so many wonderful people up there, and some day I would definitely love to move my family back to the state of Montana.”