Athletic Director and teacher aims to positively influence students, athletes
By Brandon Walker EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – To many, the duties of an athletic director are relatively misunderstood. From the outside looking in, it may appear simple: schedule contests, ensure athletes submit required paperwork and take a front row seat to all home games. In reality, the role requires much more than that and is typically paired with another source of income. Just ask John Hannahs, athletic director and middle school English teacher for the Big Sky School District.
Hannahs is a Montana native. He was born in Billings but at the ripe age of one, his family relocated to neighboring Wyoming. There, in the “census designated place” of Parkman, Hannahs and his elder sister Meghan were raised. Their parents, Kathy and David, still manage a ranch there to this day. It was there that he developed his love for athletics.
“My dad taught me so much and spent a lot of time in all aspects of my athletic endeavors,” Hannahs said. “He was supportive but also held me accountable for mistakes and never sugarcoated anything which I now realize was extremely valuable.”
The 29-year-old was a three sport high school athlete, playing guard on his high school basketball team, roping for the county rodeo team and golfing each spring. Hannahs witnessed great success during his time as a high school athlete. Three of his four seasons, his basketball team reached the Wyoming state tournament, while as a member of the golf team, he captured a state title.
After high school, Hannahs followed his parents footsteps, attending Montana State University from 2009 through 2013. Kathy and David first met at the Bozeman campus and Hannahs took part in several basketball camps sponsored by the school before choosing to enroll.
As a child, Hannahs pondered the possibility of becoming a veterinarian, but he ultimately elected to earn a degree in elementary education. “… I was lucky enough to have some amazing teachers and mentors that I loved and respected growing up,” he said. “I eventually decided that if I could be that for somebody that would be pretty special.”
Upon graduating, Hannahs searched for a place to begin his career. While working at the Bozeman based kindergarten through eighth grade Anderson School, networking led him to an opening at the Big Sky School District.
“Their principal was good friends with Jerry House who was the superintendent in Big Sky at the time and he helped me get my foot in the door,” Hannahs said. “When I was interviewing I just got a great feeling from the students and staff who showed me around, it seemed like everyone was really happy and glad to be there.”
Shortly following that 2014 interview, Hannahs was presented a job offer. He taught second grade for five years, adding the responsibilities of athletic director three years ago, and transitioned to the role of middle school English teacher last year. He said his favorite aspects of teaching and overseeing athletics are interacting with and impacting his student’s lives in the classroom while witnessing their drive to compete on the field or court after their countless hours of preparation. Seven years, thousands of lessons and hundreds of games later, it’s two days each school year that always stand out to him—the first and last day of school.
“For some reason I remember every first and last day of school each year really well. You get to meet your class for the first time and start forming a relationship and then all of a sudden it is June and you have to say goodbye,” he said. “It’s like the before and after snapshot of the entire school year. There are so many things in each role that I will hold onto and cherish for a long time.”
With the passing years, Hannahs’ duties and reach at BSSD continue to expand, influencing more students in a variety of ways. After coaching at the middle school ranks and assisting the varsity boys program, he was granted the position of head coach for the 2019-2020 Lone Peak High School varsity boys basketball team. He described his first campaign at the helm as “humbling” and a “learning experience” and he eagerly awaits the coming season.
On top of coaching, teaching and the aforementioned and unmentioned duties of an athletic director, Hannahs has self-imposed his own goal for all BSSD athletic programs.
“Building a culture of pride and tradition has been an ongoing goal for us,” he said. “… But the big picture goal is one that we have every year and that is for each program to kindle the love for the game and give our student athletes valuable skills to take into life.”
Factor in the COVID-19 pandemic and you may have one of the most challenging situations that any coach or teacher could imagine. Students aren’t afforded the same opportunities that they otherwise would be in a “normal” year—something that Hannahs recognizes.
“Seasons have been shortened or just eliminating them altogether, and balancing that with keeping everybody safe and healthy has been a huge challenge,” he said. “With teaching, as good a job as everyone has been doing with the online model, it has been challenging not getting to connect and get to know kids as effectively.”
Though the experiences for students may differ from that of their predecessors, the passion that Hannahs has for BSSD students and athletes is unwavering. Like his childhood teachers that left a strong impression on him, even in the toughest of times, Hannahs continues to strive to positively impact the lives of each and every student that he encounters.