Skyview coaches celebrate

Billings Skyview coaches celebrate during the 2003 State AA championship football game at Daylis Stadium. Teams led by head coach Ron Lebsock, far right, made three championship appearances, winning in 1995 against Bozeman and in 2003 against Billings Senior.

Gazette file photo

BILLINGS – I’ll never forget the first time I walked up to Ron Lebsock for a postgame interview.

The Billings Skyview Falcons had just lost to Butte 17-0 to open the 2016 high school football season, and for me, the first football game I covered for The Gazette.

I walked up to Ron, and went to shake his hand, asking, “Hey, coach. Remember me?”

“Kyle Hansen,” he responded with a smile.

I graduated from Skyview in 2012. I never played football. Lebsock was never my teacher in the classroom, either.

But I crossed his path every once in a while, and always said hello when I was a student just trying to figure out the high school scene growing up. My friends and I would always joke about his intimidating, old school football coach look, complemented by his trademark mustache.

But despite Lebsock’s tough looks, you will not meet a kinder, more genuine human being. Period.

I first met Lebsock right before my freshman year when I visited the school’s sports orientation to look at the cross country and basketball booths. My father, Glenn, introduced me to Lebsock that day, as the two had known each other for quite some time. My dad met Lebsock through my uncle, Paul, who played JV football with Lebsock at the University of Montana when Lebsock was a freshman and my uncle was a redshirt junior.

My uncle told me that his locker was next to Leb’s and the two struck up a friendship that lasts to this day.

The fact that he remembered me in barely dealing with me speaks to his kindness towards people. For those who saw him regularly or played for him, I imagine his impact was multiplied 100-fold.

In fact, I know it was. I’ve seen it. You don’t have to go far to see the impact Lebsock had on his current students, former students and non-students. When Lebsock’s resignation as Skyview’s football coach was announced on Monday, the outpouring of support and thanks was ever-present on social media. Former players, ex-students, co-workers and more all were quick to thank the man who had as positive an impact on their lives as anyone.

“Extremely saddened to hear the resignation of Coach Lebsock…the football fraternity will miss his leadership, class, integrity and toughness! #respect,” Billings West coach Rob Stanton tweeted.

“One of the Best Coaches in the History of Montana AA Football. Great Coach and an even better man! Wish you the best of luck Coach! Thanks for all you have done for me and what you have done for Montana Football on and off the field! #FirstClass #GreatLeader,” Kalispell Flathead coach Kyle Samson also tweeted.

Other comments range from “Class act,” to “The best of the best,” to “Glad I got the opportunity to play for this man,” to even a comment about him as a teacher, saying, “I had such a great time in his class! Good luck Mr. Lebsock!”

And those are just the posts I’ve seen across my Twitter and Facebook feeds with undoubtedly even more out there.

Lebsock wasn’t just a Skyview football coach. He WAS Skyview football. As the school’s lone head coach in its history, he won two state titles and sent countless players to the college ranks at all levels. His players worked hard for him each day, and in turn his impact for them in their lives off the football field showed its colors. He’s been the face of the program since the beginning, treating everyone with kindness along the way, and it’s hard to imagine the Falcons without their version of the “Head Ball Coach.”

As for my personal relationship with Lebsock, I’ve had the luxury to deal with him as a student and most recently as a member of the media when I moved back Billings for my first post-college job.

I’ve gotten to know Ron more in the latter, which speaks to the class he holds considering it hasn’t been easy. To put in bluntly, Skyview football has struggled in the two years I’ve covered it, going 4-16 in that span with one win being a forfeit victory. Most of my interactions with Lebsock were after losses, only seeing one of those wins in person. Speaking candidly with him after a game, Lebsock always knew his team was better than the score indicated. He wanted his kids to taste success more than anyone, and he truly and genuinely believed in his players that he put on the field more than anyone.

That made the losses tough to swallow but Lebsock always talked about next week, noting that his team will improve the next time they took the field. Instead of saying, “We need to get better,” he would state, “We will be better.”

So when I spoke to him after the Falcons beat Butte on Oct. 19 of this past football season, Lebsock’s elation for his team’s victory was something I had yet to behold as a reporter. And it came on Senior Night, a special time for everyone.

“For these seniors, I feel great for them,” Lebsock said. “That’s a memory they’ll keep the rest of their lives … You hate to see them go and play in their last game because for most of these guys it’s been a four-year commitment. It’s really hard to see them go. I love them all.”

Now it’s Lebsock’s turn to go. And like he said, it’s hard to see him go.

But he’s earned it. Enjoy retirement, coach.

Email Kyle Hansen at kyle.hansen@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsHansen

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