When asked who the people were that provided a positive influence on his life, Billings Skyview ticked off the names of a bunch of coaches, but he didn't stop there.

He talked about his father, Ted, who died when Ron was 10. And his mother, Lila, and his brother, Harry, eight years older then him, and the impact they had on him.

And then there was Mitzi Milodragovich, who helped raise Ron when he stayed in Butte after his mother decided to move to Las Vegas and then Spokane, Wash.

Through it all Lebsock believes he was destined to become a coach since he had so many good ones nurturing him through his younger years. He only hopes he is having the same impact on the young people he has coached, especially since helping to start the football program at Skyview where he's been since 1985.

"I kind of was raised by coaches and they were the people that kept me in the direction that I did go," Lebsock said recently. "They were my fathers away from home.

"I always looked up to them," Lebsock went on. "Always respected them and the kind of guys they were and the work that they put in and the influence that they had just kind of sent me that way."

The list of coaches is a veritable who's who of Montana high school and college mentors.

People like Jon McElroy, Jim Street, Dan Peters, Bill Hawke, Mick Delaney and Charlie Merrifield in Butte, and Bill Betcher, Dave Nickel, Gary Ekegren, John L. Smith, Gene Carlson, Jack Swarthout, Pokey Allen and Ron Nord at UM.

Lebsock also included the health, physical education and recreation teaching staff at the University of Montana that, during the years he was in Missoula, was made up largely of current or former coaches.

UM folks other than coaches who played a big role in his development included the late trainer Naseby Rhinehart and equipment manager Rupert Holland and current sports information director Dave Guffey.

http://www.missoulian.com/app/watn/lebsockron.mp3" target= "_blank">Listen to Ron Lebsock's interview.

Lebsock also credits growing up in the competitive but caring town of Butte with helping him make the grade.

"It's a city where you grow up talking football (and) admiring and respecting the people that play," Lebsock noted. "It's just life. Football's life there. So much tradition. You get to see it, you get to feel it, you get to smell it every day."

Along the way Lebsock has coached track and wrestling but now concentrates on football.

"This (coaching) was something that just felt good," Lebsock explained. "I get up in the morning and I love going to work. I don't know if it's one of those things that keeps you young being around these guys - the guys that I work with and the kids that come through the program.

"It's just so much fun," he added. "I don't want to say it too loud because I might make my wife feel like I'm going to have fun every day, but it doesn't seem like work."

Like so many before and after him Lebsock worked for a year as a graduate assistant coach at UM before moving on.

A guy named Bill Sprinkle came through Missoula needing an assistant coach at Billings Central and the young and inexperienced Lebsock jumped at the chance.

"That was quite an experience, learning from Bill Sprinkle and the staff we had there," Lebsock recalled.

It was during his three years at Central that Lebsock met Bartie, who would become his wife. She was the sister of one of Central's running backs. It was Sprinkle's wife who played Cupid and worked successfully to get them together.

Lebsock then took his growing coaching talents to Billings West, where he got to work with another pair of legends, Wally Sims and Paul Klaboe. The move sidetracked Lebsock's plans to return to UM for a master's degree.

When Lebsock took over at Skyview there were no seniors or juniors on the team that first year.

"Not having seniors . . . really kind of tried your patience," Lebsock said, noting that Skyview started out playing varsity at the Class B level and sophomore games at the AA level.

"They're growing pains," Lebsock elaborated. "You try to bring in examples and coaches that can help these guys learn and grow as they go. Then you come across a couple of good classes, kids that are really fired up about the game, and that makes it very special."

Perhaps the most special part has been coaching his own sons. So far Chris, Matt, Shawn and Nick have gone through Skyview and the youngest, Connor, is touted as perhaps the best player of the five.

But he's just a freshman and "has a long way to go" according to his dad.

"They grow up with the game, and they know the amount of time and .. . . effort that's needed to be put in, "Lebsock said, "what you need to do to be a good player. And those guys worked very hard to play the game."

Lebsock said he might have been harder on his own kids, but he wishes he had a whole bunch more.

Chris bypassed UM and went to Concordia College in Minnesota because the school places 86 percent of its candidates in medical school. He'll finish med school at the University of Washington this spring and start doing his residency somewhere.

Adding to the special nature of coaching his boys was having three of them - so far - play for the Grizzlies in the electrifying atmosphere of Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

As for coaching high school kids today, Lebsock said the biggest difference between now and when he played in Butte is the number of distractions they deal with now.

"Back when we were growing up you weren't inside," Lebsock said. "You were outside all the time, and you were playing something.

"Nowadays the computer age has taken us to . . . keyboards and all this rigmarole that they get into and do, and it's taken them away from those days out there on the concrete driveway and the backyard fields and the playgrounds," he lamented.

"Young people have been taken to the point where . . . everything has to be organized by an adult in order to get them to do it," Lebsock added. "We kind of took it upon ourselves to get it done."

Despite all that, he still sees plenty of kids who love to play football and other sports.

Lebsock said he actually was preparing to join the military out of high school in 1974. His eyesight kept him from being accepted at the Air Force Academy but he was looking at other options. A Griz assistant coach showed up and offered him a UM scholarship and he took it.

"It was like a gift from heaven," Lebsock laughed. "It was kind of the good Lord pointing the way and saying, 'here, you're gonna use this.' And it was a good way. It was certainly a blessing to get that. Who knows where I would have been?"

Lebsock and his UM teammates had to deal with a coaching change when Jack Swarthout retired and was replaced by Gene Carlson. Even though it was tough to see Swarthout go, Lebsock said Carlson came in and filled the void nicely.

The college highlights for Lebsock were the teammates, not the games.

"Games are games," Lebsock said. "But the most memorable thing about the whole situation is the guys you're playing with - the Duane Walkers, the Greg Salos, the Ron Rosenbergs, the Jimmie Hogans, the Guy Binghams and Terry Falcons.

"The friends you make (and) the relationships you have with those guys," Lebsock said. "(And) you go back to those games (in Missoula) nowadays and you get to see a lot of those guys."

Some of the guys Lebsock keeps in regular touch with include Falcon, now an administrator in Alberton; Stevensville coach Bobby Connors; former Griz offensive lineman Walt Brett; former Griz kicker and linebacker Bruce Carlson; and former UM wide receiver Bill Dolan.

Lebsock believes all of his experiences have made him who he is today, and a lot of those experiences happened at UM.

"Everywhere you go you see (UM) people," Lebsock said. "My family in Spokane and Las Vegas, they constantly see Griz wear everywhere.

"It all comes down to the love and the caring, the fun and the attitude - that positive, winning attitude that school portrays," Lebsock went on. "It's something that's really helped me. It's had the biggest influence on my life."


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