Math teacher Gary Little stands in front of his calculus class. He cracks jokes while teaching the class, his Air Jordans softly squeak as he walks up and down the columns of desks.
Before Little was teaching at Sentinel, he was a world-traveled track athlete, competing all over Europe, including a race at the Crystal Palace in London.
But before London, Little came from Richland, Wash., where he competed in track at the middle school level.
He didn’t think of himself as a fast runner, but his career through high school ended up proving otherwise.
He broke his first records in seventh grade in the 80 meter hurdles, and the pole vault.
“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,” he said.
Little was exceptionally fast in the 400 meter hurdles.
After graduating from Richland High School in 1976, Little attended Spokane Community College on a track scholarship--with some 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.
Shortly into his freshman year, Little was one of the top-ranked runners in the United States.
His fastest time recorded in the 400 meter hurdles was 50.7 seconds.
Little then received offers from Division 1 schools, from the University of Washinton, Eastern Washington, and Oregon State, to University of Utah and Utah State.
Little landed on Boise State.
“It was my second choice actually. My first choice was the University of Washington,” he said. “They only gave me a three-quarter scholarship and Boise State gave me a full, so I went where the money was.”
Little said his best memory from his collegiate 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.
Those records held for a long time after Little left Boise State, and it was just two years ago that he dropped off the record boards.
He not only went on to meet the Olympic Standard, but competed at the NCAA Tournament Championships where he placed twelfth in the 400 meter hurdles.
Little’s track career brought him all over the world.
“I competed all over Europe but was never able to make it to Australia which would have been super cool,” he said.
He also raced against Edwin Moses, who was ranked number one in the world for 12 years, in Eugene, Oregon at the Prefontaine Classic.
Little took first, and said it was one of the most memorable moments in his career.
Little graduated from Boise State in 1981 with a bachelor’s of science degree in mathematics.
Little 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 on coaching at 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.
He then went to the University of Montana for his master’s degree in teaching mathematics, and decided to stay and teach here.
“I came to teach here because of the pay,” Little said.
Montana was the seventh highest paying teacher salary in the United States at the time.
Little started teaching at Sentinel 33 years ago, and at that time he was the head track coach as well.
He retired from the head coach position in 2004, but also helped coach the cross country and football teams.
Just last year he came back and coached hurdles for the Spartans, bringing his grand total to 24 years coaching here.
Today Little is involved in many track 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.
“The sport gave me a lot, but I have tried to give back as much as I could,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine life without it.”
He said from all his years of coaching and competing, he learned to always give one hundred percent and to push others to be their best as well.
Little thinks athletics give kids a lot of valuable lessons.
He will always love track and the experiences and lifestyle that came with it.
“Kids need to do athletics,” he said. “It makes them more well-rounded and gives them a different perspective.”
Little still runs when he’s not pacing his classroom and teaching his classes. His lifestyle would not be the same if he hadn’t run track in middle school, breaking his first re