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NEIGHBOR: A track title made all the more notable

NEIGHBOR: A track title made all the more notable

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The first boys’ Western B Divisional track and field title in Sue Loeffler’s lengthy coaching career was timely.

That she couldn’t remember Bigfork High School winning another in her 40 years at the school is forgivable.

Her best guess was 1985, which is when the Vikings won their lone State B championship, but Sue’s husband Wayne was coaching the boys then and he couldn’t quite recall either.

“We were going back and looking through some of the trophies,” said Sue. “It’s been quite a while. A lot of people keep track of that stuff, but I don’t. I don’t know why.”

Reached by telephone Tuesday, former Bigfork athletic director and current principal Matt Porrovecchio deferred back to Mrs. Loeffler.

“If she can’t figure it out all hope is lost,” he said. “We do not have a good record of these things.”

Officially, Bigfork’s boys last won the Western B in 1986, when Eureka distance runner Shannon Butler was starting to hit his stride and the Vikings were getting a sprint sweep from Steve Morley, whose last name sounds awfully familiar.

The patriarch of Logan Morley, a sophomore who supplied a distance sweep to the Vikings’ Western B crown last weekend, had a solid sprint coach in the mid-80s: Sue Loeffler.

So it is that Bigfork’s track fortunes come full circle.

“I told them before we went into districts, we need to qualify as many athletes as we can because we can bring home some hardware (from the Western B),” said Loeffler, whose boys finished two points behind Thompson Falls at the District 7-B meet. “I knew we’d be in the top three.

“After they won it, I wanted to say I told you so. But I didn’t.”

Bigfork’s first Western B title in 28 years surrounded an 11-year stay in Class A, during which the Vals continued to make plenty of hay in girls’ track. The Vikings had athletic successes, but Saturday marked fairly uncharted territory and the title was more notable for Sue Loeffler’s return.

She was diagnosed with cancer in late November, had surgery in February and hadn’t come to a track meet until districts. This isn’t to say she didn’t remain heavily involved.

“I did the workouts and I made some practices,” she said. “The weather has a lot to do with it, too. I can’t be out in the real ugly weather.

“But I do the paperwork – the workouts for the sprinters and hurdlers – and I do the entries. I have to be involved. It’s too hard not to be.”

Loeffler graduated from Havre High and ran for two years at Flathead Valley Community College, when FVCC had a nationally-ranked women’s track team under “Mr. E,” Neil Eliason.

A member of a national championship short relay team in 1971 – beating the likes of the University of Washington – Loeffler went to Montana State Bozeman in 1973. She didn’t like it.

“I knew more about running than the guy who coached us,” she said. “It wasn’t the same.”

Sue Bronson, as she was known then, did her student teaching in Bigfork, and then stayed there as a physical education teacher the 1974-75 school year.

She took over the fledgling girls’ track program the same year, and met Wayne Loeffler, who came to Bigfork as a biology teacher, the next.

The Loefflers have raised two boys, Ross and Cole, and she coached Ross in the sprints and taught Porrovecchio in PE, and she guided the Vals to the 1992 State B track and field crown.

But that’s only a few sprouts on roots that run immeasurably deep. Porrovecchio, for one, missed her mightily while she fought her health problems.

“But she hasn’t lost a step,” he said. “She’s just as passionate and just as much an advocate for kids and sports as she ever was. Just an amazing lady.”

On an overcast day perfect for running, Bigfork’s boys ran off with a landmark divisional title.

“They sure performed on Saturday,” said Loeffler, who was on the infield at Missoula County Stadium. It was her second meet of the spring, and she had to be there.

If she wasn’t, it wouldn’t have been the same.

Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 523-5247, at fneighbor@missoulian.com or @Fritz_Neighbor.

Reporter Fritz Neighbor can be reached at (406) 523-5247 or at fneighbor@missoulian.com.

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