Joe Howell admits he didn’t know much about math when his old high school gave him a two-week substitute teaching position nearly three decades ago.
“Two weeks is now 28 years,” said the 53-year-old Howell, still a teacher and coach at Lisbon, N.D.
By the end of his first year, Howell had secured a fulltime job and a coaching position, which has brought him decades of success.
As head coach of the perennial powerhouse Lisbon boys track and field team, Howell has built a club with a legitimate shot at a state championship every year.
The Broncos will be making a run at their fourth North Dakota Class B state title when the state meet begins Friday in Grand Forks.
“Our hopes are the same as the other top teams in the state,” Howell said. “We want to win.”
Lisbon’s goal might not be possible if not for its selfdescribed “intense” coach.
“I don’t know how you can’t get jacked up about the enthusiasm of youth,” Howell said after the Broncos celebrated their 11th consecutive Region 1 title last Saturday.
Although he was excited to see a Lisbon victory, it wasn’t a new experience for Howell. In his 28 seasons as boys coach, Lisbon has won 25 region championships.
“He gets the biggest amount of respect from the kids,” Lisbon girls track coach Brad Bittner said. “Our kids compete and they give all they’ve got for their coach.”
Howell is the last to take credit for the Broncos incredible run, however.
“You can’t control much,” Howell said. “The kids control this game.”
Howell admitted having big numbers is the key ingredient to continuing success.
“We get the kids out,” Howell said. “I think that’s a collective thing. You’re going to see multi-sport athletes at Lisbon.”
Lisbon can’t help but thank Howell’s track program, which has become a catalyst for many other successful sports in the town.
Last fall, the Broncos football team finished second in Class 2A. It wasn’t much of a surprise. Like the track program, the football team seems to be strong every year.
The winning ways don’t just extend to other sports. It also permeates into the minds of underclassmen who one day hope to make their mark.
“You see guys that did well in the past and you want to be like them,” said senior Brayden Wagner, who qualified for state in four events.
Howell’s current position as a physical education teacher has allowed him to help the Lisbon youth become interested in track as early as their elementary school years.
“He can tell what you’re going to be good at just by watching you in phy ed,” Wagner said.
At the end of this season, the Broncos lose eight seniors, six who qualified for the state meet.
But, as usual, they’ll be able to restock their talent pool.
Howell made sure of that by bringing eighth-graders to the region meet. He did so in an effort to show the youngsters what they need to strive for to continue the program’s success.
“He’s got the best program in the state,” Fargo Oak Grove coach Terri Krueger said. “I don’t know how he reloads every year.”
Even after all the success, Howell said he isn’t ready to hang his hat.
“I’m not getting tired of it,” Howell said.
“I remember when we used to sit around 20 years ago and say that it (20 years) would be a nice goal. Now 30 doesn’t seem like so many.”