A time to move on: After 50 years as a prep coach, Jim Howson is — for now — retiring

HATTON, N.D. -- Metal baseball bats hadn't been invented yet. The 3-point shot was a gimmick in the American Basketball League, a short-lived professional circuit.

Jim Howson
Jim Howson of Hatton is retiring after fifty years of coaching. (Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)

HATTON, N.D. - Metal baseball bats hadn’t been invented yet. The 3-point shot was a gimmick in the American Basketball League, a short-lived professional circuit.

A lot has changed since Jim Howson, fresh out of college, joined the high school coaching ranks in 1964.

"Fifty years is a long time. That’s a long time to do anything,” said the 72-year-old Howson. And, at least for now, 50 years in the prep coaching ranks is enough. Howson recently resigned from his head boys basketball coaching at Larimore.

Whether it is retirement or a hiatus remains to be seen.

"I’m retired. But I’d never say no, I won’t coach again,” Howson said. "I didn’t care what the sport, I always enjoyed coaching. It’s been a love affair. But I feel that, for now, it’s time.”


The coaching career began with two years at LaMoure, N.D. Then he moved to Hatton, where he spent the bulk of his teaching and coaching career (1966-97). Since then, he’s had coaching stints at Finley-Sharon, Hatton-Northwood and Larimore.

Howson is sitting in the recently reburbished Hatton baseball facility. There is, among other things, a new grandstand, new seats and new dugouts. On the back of the grandstand is listed local state championship baseball teams.

Howson’s teams won four state high school baseball titles, from 1969-71, during a run in which the Flyers won 59 straight games, and again in 1982.

"That was nice,” Howson said. "That’s always the ultimate, to win state. That’s what you aspire to, being the best.”

Those were his only state titles in a career that totaled 918 coaching wins - 145 in baseball, 177 in football and 596 in basketball after his Larimore team went 17-4 this winter.

"That’s a lot of bus rides, and the majority of them were good trips,” Howson said. "I don’t like to toot my own horn. But in this district and the good programs we always played against - Hillsboro, Mayville-Portland, teams like that - I think that’s quite a record in basketball.”

Still, Howson said, coaching has been about more than wins and losses. The relationships, with coaches and players, has been more important. "Or when a kid or a parent comes up and thanks you,” he said.

The fun part has been the former players. For the past several years, he’s enjoyed joining some of his former players on trips to Major League Baseball spring training.


"But the hard things are going to a former player’s funeral. That’s the tough thing, not the games, not the losses,” Howson said.

There have been lowlights on the playing field. "This year, when we were seeded first in the district and didn’t make it to the regional, that’s the latest one,” Howson said with a smile.

The biggest changes on the field of play Howson has seen have been the 3-point shot and the shooting clock in basketball, neither of which Howson is a big fan.

He’s seen changes off the playing fields.

"We didn’t lift weights when I was in school. Nobody did,” Howson said. "Weights? What was that. But we’ve found that weight training is good for kids. It builds up the body, the muscles. And it is good for self discipline.

"The biggest gripe, the complaints that I got, was that I didn’t force kids to go to football or basketball summer camps. I would never do that. I’d tell the kids if they wanted to go, fine. But I’d rather see them playing summer baseball. I wanted kids in all sports.

"I remember when coaches couldn’t have anything school-related to do with their kids in the summer. And kids still played on their own and got better.”

Howson had a successful athletic career of his own. He was a starter on Rolla’s 1960 state high school basketball championship team. He went on to play three sports at Waldorf (Iowa) College for two years, then transferred to Concordia College in Moorhead and played baseball for two years.


He’s been selected to three halls of fame - Waldorf College, the North Dakota High School Coaches Association and the North Dakota Amateur Baseball.

There were bumps along the way. In 1996, the Hatton School Board fired Howson as basketball coach (he was retained as the football coach). And he knows there have been parents’ complaints. It goes with the turf.

"But hardly anybody came to me (about complaints),” Howson said. "I can probably count on one hand the number of times parents talked directly to me.

"But, apparently, there were complaints to school administrators or school board members. I didn’t hear about them very often. But, yeah, it bothers when you do hear about that.”

As Howson says, he persevered. And, at least for now, he is ready to move on.

"I’m still healthy,” he said. "I’ve seen a lot of guys hang on until their health goes. I didn’t want to do that. Hopefully, I’ll have other things to do now.”

What To Read Next
Get Local