Sandpoint High School Athletic Director Kris Knowles lives, eats, and breathes sports.
He went from being an athlete at Coeur d’Alene High School in the early 1990s, to coaching several sports at Lake City High School, to a brief stint as an assistant at North Idaho College.
Now, he is where he’s been for the last decade, athletic director at Sandpoint High School.
“I spent a lot of time in gyms and around athletes,” Knowles said. “I was very fortunate to have great mentors and basketball coaches.”
One of Knowles’ best memories as an athlete dates back to a varsity basketball game against Sandpoint at Sandpoint High School in February 1993.
As he recalled it, the Coeur d’Alene bus arrived just as the junior varsity game got underway. When the varsity bus arrived, there were no available seats in the house.
“Coeur d’Alene fans, my mom included, had to watch the game in the common area on closed circuit television,” Knowles said. “I think about that atmosphere all the time.”
Through his time as a coach and an educator, Knowles picked up several mentors — all of whom said he was perfect fit for an administrative role.
Most people who make career-altering decisions find it hard to pinpoint the time that decision was made. Not for Knowles however, he recalled the day he made the decision to be an administrator like it was yesterday.
“It was in the fall of 2007,” Knowles said. “I was walking into a Coeur d’Alene school faculty meeting at Lake City High School. An administrator that I looked up to walked up to me and put his arm around me and said if they can be in this position, you can easily be in that position. Go back and get your master’s.”
After the conversation, Knowles still wasn’t completely convinced. However after further inspection, he started to buy into the idea.
“My wife was really supportive and a week later I went back to that administrator and said I’d like to do this,” Knowles said. “He said that’s great. Here’s some people you should talk to.”
Knowles saying the words of “I want to be an athletic director” wasn’t enough; he still had to go and get his master’s degree.
During his schooling, Knowles was an assistant coach for the North Idaho College men’s basketball team, had a family, and was teaching full-time at Lake City High School.
“I never thought about putting the coaching job on pause,” Knowles said. “It’s who I am. Being in athletics is who I am.
Lake City High School was also very flexible with Knowles’ schedule during his pursuit of his master’s degree.
“They let me have my prep period at the end of the day,” Knowles said. “That allowed me to leave the school at about 1:30. I’d drive down to the college, practice and go home. Then I’d spend time with the family.”
Above everything else, Knowles had the support of his family. Prior to Knowles committing to a role in administration, he was pondering the idea of starting a career in coaching at the collegiate level.
“In 2011, I was thinking about what the next step was going to be,” Knowles said. “I wanted to coach college basketball. I knew if I wanted to do that, I’d have to start climbing the ladder and make decisions.”
At the time, Knowles’ youngest daughter, Avery, was a year old and his oldest daughter, Ali, was 3. He realized if he made the jump to college coaching, he wasn’t going to be able to spend as much time with his kids as he wanted.
“Family is the most important thing,” Knowles said. “My passion was in athletics and working with kids and coaches, so being an A.D. allowed me to continue to do that.”
Having the support of his wife and place of employment proved to be a huge help for Knowles in his endeavors, but he described the 16 months that it took to finish his master’s degree as a “grinder.”
“There was a three-week period where we (North Idaho College men’s basketball team) were on the road,” he said. “We had to go to Eastern Utah, come back, and go to Ephraim, then we had to go back to Salt Lake City. We were flying out Wednesday and coming back on Sunday.”
After graduation, Knowles got an opportunity to fulfill his first athletic director position at Bonners Ferry High School in 2011.
Randy Russel, former principal at Coeur d’Alene High School, contacted Knowles about the opening at Bonners Ferry to gauge his interest.
“I can’t remember how it came up but someone told him I wanted to be an athletic director,” Knowles said. “He told me that the job in Bonners Ferry was open and we had some connection to Bonners.”
Knowles spent one year at Bonners Ferry High School and learned a lot from his experience as a Badger.
“I thought somebody just set up the field for football games,” he said. “They called me and said the field isn’t set and it’s not painted. I said, ‘who does that?’ They said, ‘You do.’ You learn and learn fairly quickly. You need to get stuff done if you need it done.”
While his time at Bonners Ferry was short, he didn’t plan for his journey to last just one year.
However, everything that he learned from his job at BFHS translated into a great learning lesson.
“I met some great people, and it was a huge learning curve,” he said. “When we moved up there, I didn’t want to put a calendar on it. If it was five years, cool. If it was one year, awesome. If it was the rest of my career, cool. I was never thinking that I’m just putting in one year and leaving.”
During his time at Bonners, Knowles and former SHS Athletic Director Tom Albertson were discussing sharing a bus to a wrestling event when the two began to spark up a conversation.
The assistant SHS principal at the time was stepping down, and Albertson was about to step into that role, making the athletic director position available.
Knowles and his wife, Kelly, talked about it which led to him making some phone calls and doing research about the position.
Knowles proceeded to throw his hat in the ring to become Sandpoint’s next athletic director.
“Dr. [Becky] Meyer called me and offered me the position,” he said. “I was thrilled. She called me early in the week and I came to Sandpoint the next week and met with her and had a great conversation..”
Some of Knowles’ pre-existing relationships helped him before he walked through the doors of Sandpoint High School.
He noted when he took the job he was a bit worried about how his relationship with football coach Santini Puailoa would pan out.
“I had seen and respected what he did with Sandpoint’s football program and I was nervous,” Knowles said. “How am I going to build a relationship with this guy with such a big personality? My friend and old offensive coordinator at Lake City, Henry Hammel, reached out to (Santini) Puailoa and said, ‘Trust Kris. he’s a good guy, he’ll be good for you guys.’ That was really good for our relationship.”
When Knowles arrived at the school for the first time, Puailoa was having a parent meeting that Knowles sat in on.
“Puailoa was the master of getting people excited,” Knowles said. “The excitement was next level.”
Fast forward a decade later and Knowles isn’t too quick to pat himself on the back. He says there are some things he’d label as a success and some things he’d label as a misstep.
“The first thing I wanted to do was build relationships,” Knowles said. “That included going to the booster club meetings and getting to know the community.”
On the flip side, Knowles hoped to bring an indoor facility to Sandpoint High School by his 10-year mark. This hasn’t come to fruition, obviously.
“We could’ve done a much better job developing facilities,” Knowles said. “Other than Memorial Field, we still have the same facilities we had when I came here in 2012.”
“We can’t keep kicking the can down the road and say we’re going to be fine,” Knowles said. “A majority of 4A schools in the state that we have to compete with to win state championships have their own dedicated facilities with two gyms, weight rooms that are double our size, and so on.”
Memorial Field was another plus to come out of Knowles’ stint as athletic director at Sandpoint High School.
“It is the most beautiful setting there is,” He said. “I get a lot of calls about Memorial Field, positive and negative.”
Some of the positive phone calls include compliments about the setting of the field and coaches asking about how they can get a playoff game at Memorial Field. The negative comments have come mostly when snow starts falling from the sky and when there’s white stuff on the artificial surface that can’t be removed.
“Sometimes the casual person or the first-time parent may not understand we don’t own it,” Knowles said. “If I get those types of phone calls, the first thing I typically ask is if they know we don’t [own it] and I’d say about half the people don’t know that.”
With games put on pause due to snow being on the field and spring break starting today, April 2, the Bulldogs are starting off a bit behind compared to their rivals.
“It’s an unfortunate thing, and it sets us back a bit,” Knowles said. “When you have your baseball and softball teams practicing in the gyms, it’s tough. Some of these kids haven’t thrown outside until they get into the game.”
Every setback has its advantages though, and according to Knowles, it gives Sandpoint the opportunity to peak at the right time.
“You’ll see this spring our teams will be making improvements daily,” Knowles said. “It’ll probably be a quicker raise than other schools that we’ll see when we go to districts.”
“Sandpoint does more with less” better than anyone in the state, Knowles said, adding thata big part of that comes from development from its youth sports programs.
“The development and dedicated efforts in youth sports have been huge,” Knowles said. “There have been dedicated efforts to focus on Sandpoint kids and their buying in.”
Volleyball, soccer, and wrestling have always been in the upper echelon of youth sports in Sandpoint, but now multiple sports are gauging interest from the youth.
“It’s a dedicated community effort to develop all sports,” Knowles said. “A lot of that can be attributed to the kids buying in and being committed along with the coaches that are in it for the right reasons.”