Math teacher Gary Little never thought of himself as college athlete material, but before he knew it, he was much more.
Little is now 59 years old and has been married for 37 years while raising three children in Missoula, Montana.
In his middle school years he wasn’t known for being a fast runner, nor did he himself think he was a fast runner. He was just the average boy running track for something to do in the springtime.
Little was born in north Idaho, but grew up in Richland, Washington in the Tri Cities. He participated in track at the middle school level and continued to compete when he got into high school, as well as participating in football and basketball.
Little said, “No one talked me into it, I just did all sports because that’s just what you did, but track was probably my best sport. I never thought I was very fast until I got into high school.”
When he was in high school, was when he, as well as others, started to realize that he wasn’t just the average boy coming out to run track to show off for the ladies. He was actually very fast--exceptionally fast at the 400 meter hurdles.
Little said, “I won events all through junior high. In high school I was always one of the top ones. In the state of Washington, I was the second ranked high hurdler in the state.”
After graduating from Richland High School in 1976, Little attended Spokane Community College to run track--with a great amount of pressure from his father. Little hadn’t planned to attend college, but rather become an electrician. His father, on the other hand, saw a lot of hope in his son that he didn’t want to go to waste.
He attended Spokane Community on a track scholarship and shortly into his freshman year, he was one of the top-ranked runners in the United States. He was most well known for his record times in the 400 hurdles. His fastest time recorded was 50.7 seconds. He then began to receive many different offers from Division 1 schools such as University of Washington, Oregon State, University of Utah, Utah State and Eastern Washington for him to continue running track at the higher, more competitive level.
Little said, “I picked Boise State. It was my second choice actually, my first choice was the University of Washington. They only gave me a three-quarter scholarship and Boise State gave me a full, so I went where the money was.”
While running at Boise State, Little made an even bigger name for himself. He says his best memory from his collegiate track career was during his junior season when he set the Boise State school record, the Boise State Stadium record, and the Big Sky Conference record all within the same year.
Also within that year, he went on to meet the Olympic Standard, and compete at the NCAA Tournament Championships where he placed 12th in the 400 meter hurdles.The three records that Little held stood for a long time after he left Boise State but are not still standing today. But it was just two years ago when he dropped off the record boards at Boise State.
Little broke his first record when he was in the 7th grade in the 80 meter hurdles and also in the pole vault. Then his first big time college record was when he broke the 400 meter record for the Northwest Junior College Conference.
Little is now very happy his father had pressured him into pursuing track as well as Spokane Community College, because that is where he met his wife, Daryl, who was also attending on an athletic scholarship for cross country. She finished out her schooling at Spokane Community College then moved to Boise to be with Little.
Little graduated from BSU in 1981 with a bachelor’s of science degree in mathematics.
After Little’s glory days as a track star he decided to become a teacher. He came to the University of Montana to get his master’s degree in teaching mathematics. He decided he wanted to teach in Montana because at the time Montana was the 7th highest paying teacher salary in the United States.
“I came to teach there here because of the pay,” said Little.
In between competing and working as a teacher he also coached track for a college track team in Idaho for a season, then a high school track team in Boise for year, and that’s where he found his niche. He became hooked to the high school level after one of his female athletes set the all class state record in the high hurdles and a boy who was a state champion.
When Little first started teaching at Sentinel 33 years ago, he was also the head track coach for the Spartans. He retired from the head coaching job in 2004, but during that time he also helped coach the Sentinel cross country team as well as the football team. He coached Sentinel track for a total of 24 years including last year when he came back to coach the hurdles at Sentinel.
Little said, “The sport gave me a lot but I have tried to give back as much as I could. I couldn’t imagine life without it.”
Today Little is involved in many track-related events throughout Montana. He has been an official at the state track meet, coached young middle school track athletes, coached high school track athletes, and also has been a big help in the Missoula Marathon.
When looking back on his collegiate track years, he says he wishes he would have worked harder. He claims he never felt the need to work super hard because it just came easy to him. But thinking back one of his goals was to make the Olympic team. He now feels as though he could have accomplished that goal if he would have put in a little more time and effort.
Little also has some very fond memories from his competitive years that he will cherish forever. He said racing against Edwin Moses (who was ranked number one in the world for 12 years) in Eugene, Oregon in the Prefontaine Classic where he placed first was most likely his most memorable moment.
He also mentioned how he will never forget the time he raced in London at the Crystal Palace.
Little said, “I competed all over Europe but was never able to make it to Australia which would have been super cool.”
Now as a high school math teacher, Little explains that it is important for kids to get involved in athletics at a young age because it widens your social group of friends and gets you out of your comfort zone.
Little said, “Kids need to do athletics. It makes them more well-rounded and gives them a different perspective.”
Little will always love track and the experience and lifestyle that come with it. He says his now very healthy lifestyle of running and eating healthy and his social life wouldn’t have been the same if he’d not run track starting in middle school.
“From all my years of coaching and competing, the biggest thing I think I learned was to always give 100 percent and to push others to be their best as well.”