Kent Paulson grew up about as far away from his current home in Whitefish as is possible while still calling himself a Montanan.
Paulson, the first full-time commissioner of the Frontier Conference, hails from Outlook, which produced another pretty recognizable face on the Montana sports scene -- Lady Griz coach Robin Selvig.
"When I was in high school, I was a teammate of Robin Selvig’s," Paulson said. "We lived on a farm our parents owned at the time, so I graduated from Outlook. All of my siblings, after I graduated they moved into Plentywood and all of my five siblings are Plentywood graduates."
One of those siblings is Kraig Paulson, the man who started the legacy No. 37 tradition while playing football at Montana and later returned as an assistant coach.
"Kraig is coaching at Division II Northern State in Aberdeen, South Dakota," Kent said. "He just completed his first year there coaching on the defensive side of the ball. When that staff at UNLV, when Bobby Hauck resigned, everybody was keeping their suitcase packed and scattering to the wind. I think it worked out pretty well. They tied for their division championship, the Northern Sun Conference. They had a decent year."
Paulson recently took a few minutes to talk about his health and that of the Frontier Conference with the Missoulian.
Q. What sports did you play at Outlook?
A. Every sport that the school offered. We did not have football. That was before the days of the MHSA allowing for co-opping, or else we would have done like they do now. Our high school, unfortunately, is now closed, so now all the kids who reside in the Outlook area are bused into Plentywood. I was a year older than Rob; I graduated in 1969. I played on the same team as Rob’s older brother Ken Selvig, who graduated ahead of me.
Q. And in college?
A. I played collegiately at Western, Western Montana College in those days. I played basketball for the late Casey Keltz and I ran track and field. The Frontier Conference, in the time that I was there from 1969-73, virtually every school had track and field. We’re building toward that as we have a very vibrant track and field program going now in the Frontier. I’m happy to say that all four years we were at Western we won the conference championship. We used to have our meet in Billings at the fairgrounds.
Q. How did you get into coaching and administration?
A. I went to Great Falls to do my student teaching in the fall of 1973 and was fortunate enough to get hired then at semester time and I stayed in Great Falls. I started out at North Junior High. I was there for three years, then I went over to CMR (head boys' basketball coach, assistant track coach) in the fall of 1978 and I was there from 1978 to the spring of 1993. I went from Great Falls to Troy, I was there from 1994-95 (as boys' basketball coach), and then I moved to Whitefish in the fall of 1995 and I was here for 15 years. So I had a 37-year career in secondary education and I did everything from guidance counseling to administration, so I got to see it all.
Q. I know you had a serious auto accident recently. How long ago was that?
A. It was Nov. 10, actually last week was the one-year anniversary. I was returning home from my aunt’s funeral in Plentywood and was hit on some icy, snowy roads, I got hit by an oncoming vehicle 15 miles east of Havre. ... I remember it well. It was 3:40 in the afternoon and I got hit pretty hard and I’ve been working pretty hard to get my health restored this last year. I’m happy to report that I’m doing very well. Those doctors and physical therapists can put a guy together again. It’s been quite a year.
Q. What do you do in your role as commissioner?
A. My job primarily is to act as a liaison for our 10 schools to our parent organization, the NAIA, and the NAIA is headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. I’ve kind of likened my job to a superintendent of schools in terms that I’m a non-voting member and the presidents of the 10 schools are the board of directors, so they would be like the school board, and I shape the agendas for our meetings. Probably 80-85 percent of my job is working with the schools’ athletic directors, helping to oversee the athletic programs from a conference level, where as they are more specific with their schools. We offer 17 different sports throughout our conference. I do a multitude of things. I’m in charge of all the awards, both ordering of and presenting at championship events. I do the books and pay the bills and do a lot of work dealing with shaping our sports manuals. ... Having a background in education, I’m vitally interested in the academic piece, the student athlete. I’m very proud of the products we put on the courts and fields but equally proud of the kids and their endeavors in the classroom.
Q. What are you most proud of during your tenure as commissioner?
A. This is my seventh year and I guess what I’m most proud of is how we’ve grown the conference. I inherited a blue-ribbon league. The Frontier Conference has always been a conference of great integrity and certainly very competitive in all sports. I’m very proud to have been part of a team that’s brought other schools into our league. We’ve grown our football league into what we think is the premier league in NAIA. Year in and year out it’s an eight-team dogfight. The addition of Southern Oregon and the College of Idaho has occurred during my tenure.
Q. Carroll College had quite a run atop the football standings, but other teams seem to have caught up. Is that good for the league?
A. I think it is. The coaches every year in our media day shudder when we have our press conference and I talk about the depth of our conference and how there are no Saturdays that anybody can take off. I think the whole strength of our league has parlayed into our other sports. In men’s and women’s basketball, we had two teams in the top eight on the women’s side. We’ve had teams play into the Final Four -- Rocky Mountain College won the national championship in 2009. I really think when you bring schools in everybody has to work that much harder just to maintain. I think what it does is allow your league to get stronger top to bottom. There are certainly other fine teams around the country, but I know of no other conference that their league one through eight in their various sports are so well balanced. As you get a strong league, you attract better student athletes. With six of our schools in Montana, we touch many, many communities and have a lot of athletes from our towns and cities in Montana, but we also have attracted some great athletes from out of state.