Brad Salonen and Kris Schmitt started dating in high school.
They kept their relationship alive on a somewhat off-and-on basis while both were student-athletes at the University of Montana, but after they graduated, they took a little time off from each other while he worked in Missoula and she coached and taught in Ronan.
The time off proved beneficial, because their relationship was even stronger when they got back together late in 1992 and got married in 1994.
"We weren't even close to (getting) married in school," Brad said recently.
"I think it was probably one of the best things for Brad and I," Kris said, "because we had had such a long on-and-off relationship. I think we needed a little break from each other and kind of learned how to respect and appreciate each other a little more."
"You might want to move on to the next question, because this is where I'm gonna get beat up bad," was Brad's interjection when Kris was asked how much the two supported each other during their UM days.
"I think I made it to one track meet, so get ready. Here she goes."
"He was not much of a track follower," Kris said. "At that point in time it was just not an interest. I used to laugh because he'd have every excuse in the world. The one meet he finally travelled (to) with my mom and dad . . . was one of the worst meets because it was really long and grueling."
Kris thinks Brad's appreciation for track grew when she was coaching the sport in Ronan. In fact, Brad would come out and help at the stadium, moving hurdles and helping with meet preparation.
"It was a different life for us," Kris said about their UM days, "and I think it goes back to why we didn't get married right away."
On the other hand, Kris supported Brad's football career at UM because she loved the sport. She still loves to go to Griz games today.
http://www.missoulian.com/app/watn/salonenbradkris040809.MP3" title="BradKrisSalonen" target="_blank">Listen to the entire interview with Brad and Kris (Schmitt) Salonen.
Right out of school Kris - an outstanding track performer for the Grizzlies - continued running for the Missoula-based Mountain West Track Club. She had planned to stay with the club for at least another year, but then came the job offer from Ronan High School to teach and coach both boys' and girls' track.
"To be able to stay in western Montana and teach, I went ahead and took that first job in Ronan and actually stayed there for nine years before we came up to the Flathead Valley," she noted.
Brad started out working for Northwestern Mutual Insurance, the same company older brother and former Grizzly and pro football player Brian worked for in Missoula. Brad had done an internship with the company during his final year working on a management degree at UM.
While playing softball, Brad got to know Dave Montelius, a branch manager for Western States Insurance. Montelius worked on Brad, trying to get him to come to work for him.
So when Brad and Kris became engaged, and Brad knew he would be moving to Ronan, Montelius - who headed the WSI branch office in Polson - offered Salonen a chance to work for the company out of a Ronan office. He took the offer.
Brad also had early opportunities to go into coaching, but so far has fought those off.
Right now he prefers coaching 11-year-old daughter Taylor. It started six years ago with soccer, a sports about which he knew "absolutely nothing," and has also gone into parks and recreation and Rotary Club basketball.
"My good friend, Grady Bennett, keeps asking me every year to come coach (for him)," Brad said, adding that if five-year-old son Will takes up football that might make the offer more attractive down the road.
But for now Brad's more than happy to coach his kids.
"I would love to do the high school sports, but there's just no way I'm gonna coach other kids and not coach my own kids now," Brad said emphatically.
For Kris, coaching entered the back of her mind at a young age.
"I think I just kind of always knew when I graduated from high school I wanted to be a teacher (and) I wanted to be a coach," Kris said, adding that her desire was to follow in the footsteps of the people that affected her life so much.
"They're the reason I'm the person that I am today with teaching and coaching," Kris said. "It's just kind of in my blood."
When the couple moved to the Flathead Valley based on a Western States opportunity for Brad, Kris didn't have a job lined up, but shortly thereafter was hired as a teacher and freshman girls' basketball coach at Columbia Falls High School.
A couple years later she became the head girls coach there. Two years ago she took advantage of an opportunity to teach and serve as sophomore girls' basketball coach at the new Glacier High School in Kalispell.
Being a head coach in Columbia Falls was made easier by the fact that she was only teaching part time. Teaching full time at Glacier has made being an assistant more appealing, even though she misses being a head coach, something she "loved and took pride in."
Kris hasn't coached track since she left Ronan, instead throwing her entire effort toward basketball, a sport she played in high school and probably could have pursued at least at the Frontier Conference level.
Raised in a military family, Kris was excited about being able to go to college and compete on an athletic scholarship. Even with financial aid, going out of state would have been too expensive.
So it came down to weighing track offers from Montana and Montana State. Kris said the fit at Montana seemed better, so she came to the Missoula campus one year after Brad.
That put her in line to run with Paula Good (Pease), Sara Robitaille (Sexe) and Jennifer Harlan. The foursome would set school records in the 400- and 1600-meter relays, marks that still stand today.
For Brad the choice was a little more cut and dried. Both Montana and Montana State showed interest in him, and he took recruiting trips to both schools, but after being so closely involved with the UM program through his brother Brian's career with the Grizzlies, the decision to join Larry Donovan's program ended up being an easy one.
From a practical standpoint, Brian was graduating and there wasn't another tight end on the roster, so Brad saw an opportunity there as well.
Joe Glenn, who later became Grizzly head coach, was Brad's position coach under Donovan. After that staff was replaced by Don Read and his crew, Robin Pflugrad coached the receivers and tight ends at Montana.
There was a definite contrast in styles. Donovan went with a lot of full contact drills in practice, even in the fall, while Read backed off from contact during falls drills even though his practices were longer than Donovan's.
"I don't know which one's right or wrong," Salonen said. "You even see it in the NFL. One coach believes in contact, another one may not."
Brad battled some injuries during his freshman season and didn't get a lot of playing time. But that didn't make the firing of Donovan and his staff any easier to take.
"That was such a hard time," Brad recalled. "To see that staff let go, with the new stadium already in the works, that was very, very difficult. But you (didn't) look back for a second after you'd been around coach Read and the assistants he brought in."
Like Kris, Brad has a lot of appreciation for those who coached him, people like Gary Turcott and Dale Pohle at Great Falls High and Read and his assistants at UM.
Brad got to stay tied to Grizzly football after he finished playing by doing radio color commentary with play-by-play announce Mick Holien for five years in the 1990s.
"It was perfect timing when I did it," Brad said. "I was still living in Missoula. That could have been the funnest job ever. Didn't pay a lot of money, but it was such a thrill."
Brad started his radio stint when Dave Dickenson was a sophomore quarterback. His first game on the radio was against South Dakota State, when Dickenson and his teammates rallied from a huge halftime deficit to win the contest.
"The next five years were just a blur of the fun that we had, the great games, the great players," Brad remembered.
But after those five years daughter Taylor has come along, the Salonens were living in Ronan, and Brad was ready to hang up the microphone and move on to the next chapter in his life.
While Taylor has been playing sports since she was five, Will - almost six - is just starting to get involved, shooting some hoops. Brad hasn't put a football in his hands quite yet, and Will's parents have noticed some other talents as well.
"He has quite the imagination," Kris said, "and we'll not be surprised if that kid ends up on stage somewhere, too."
Kris' track career at UM was nothing short of spectacular. Besides sharing the school records in the two relay events, she twice won Big Sky Conference indoor championship in the 55-meter hurdles and 200-meter dash as well as outdoor titles in the 100-meter hurdles (twice) and the 400-meter hurdles.
She still holds individual school marks in the indoor 55-meter dash and 55- and 300-meter hurdles as well as outdoor records for the 100-meter dash and 400-meter hurdles.
The Dick Koontz-led team also staged a remarkable second-day comeback to win the 1987 league outdoor track and field title.
Kris said the keys to the comeback included several women placing below first in numerous events and some assistance from Lady Griz basketball players Jeanne McNulty, Marti Leibenguth and Sharla Muralt.
"We just came out that Saturday and dominated in every event," Kris recalled. "That was probably the coolest thing that I've ever been in."
That was her sophomore season. Kris said she won the 100-meter hurdles only because teammate Sara Robitaille fell during the race, but it did save the team some crucial points.
The four relay team members still try to get together occasionally to share some laughs and memories of the hard work they put in to perfect their relay technique.
"There was just so much internal motivation with the four of us," Kris pointed out. "We just took so much pride in what each of us did."
While Brad, true to form, didn't attend the meet, he has reminders of what he missed.
"He does get to see some videos that my dad (shot), and he was just a little impressed with me," Kris laughed.
The rivalry with Montana State was at a different level for the two.
Brad's father - as has been well chronicled - played at Montana State and is a member of the hall of fame there.
"There's no bigger game," Brad stated. "When I was a sophomore, I only had one touchdown, and it was against the Cats. When I was a junior, I only had one touchdown, but it was against the Cats. In '86 and '87 we put a pounding to them, and in '88 it was a little closer."
Back in the 80s the game with MSU was one of the only UM games that got on television.
"You had your chance to shine, and it was fun to shine in those games," Brad said. "I (also) remember a couple of games against Boise State and Reno, but those (the Cat games) were the ones that stand out."
Even though the track teams had an annual dual meet that was important, Kris doesn't remember the rivalry being that strong in her sport, probably because track is largely an individual thing.
"You did want to beat the Cats, but not like now when I go sit in that football stadium," she said.
Ironically, Kris' "boss" at Glacier High is former Bobcat star Doug Hashley, the girls' varsity basketball head coach.
"There's a few Bobcats up here (in the Flathead), but I still think the Griz outweigh 'em," Kris bragged.
She remembers her senior season as being a little more difficult. It required more internal drive because - by then - Good, Robitaille and Harlan had graduated.
"I still had a ton of success, and I look back now and think, 'how could I have been that fast in the 100 meters?'" Kris said. "I don't think I put in that much more time than anyone else. I just (was) gifted (with) talent (and) a lot of good coaching and good people to be around."
Brad recalled his junior year when the Grizzlies beat top-10-ranked Northern Iowa on the road and top-ranked Nevada at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
He also cherishes a come-from-behind win over Idaho State in UM's first-ever game in the new stadium as well as a double-overtime victory over Northern Arizona.
Brad also said having to battle through injuries and fight his way up the depth chart gave him "a better appreciation (of) getting to play again and getting healthy," and of how important his education was going to be.
"I remember when I was going in as a freshman Brian said, 'Make sure that first quarter you buckle down and you at least get a 3.0 because you can get off track in a hurry,'" Brad recalled. "I got more academic All-American awards than I ever did on the football field. It made getting that first job pretty dang easy."
Kris has a little different outlook.
"I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for athletics," she stated. "There was no plan for my education, or I could have had a ton of student loans.
"There are so many kids that I want to have the same opportunity that I was given," Kris went on. "I didn't work as hard as Brad probably did (in class). I wish Brian would have been there my first quarter to tell me to get that 3.0.
"All of the sudden those first quarter grades come out and my dad's looking at me like, 'really?' But it's one of those things where it's your job. You're in athletics. If people could understand how hard you did have to work. It was a commitment.
"Again, here I am today," she concluded. "I'm a teacher. I'm a coach. It's just what I've always wanted to do. (After 19 years) I still love it."