Higley Unified School District athletic director Art Wagner, 43, was found dead near Higley High School Wednesday morning, according to the Gilbert Police Department. Police say the matter is still under investigation, but believe Wagner died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Gilbert police Sgt. Jesse Sanger said a school employee found Wagner’s body near the Higley High School campus around 8:45 a.m. Sanger added that the incident was not a school shooting and that all students are safe.
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Wagner, a respected educator and leader among state high school athletic circles, was the Higley district’s executive director of support services since 2012 and district athletic director since 2009. He was also nearing the end of his term as the executive board president of the Arizona Interscholastic Association, the governing body in this state for high school sports.
“He was a dear friend and my heart and prayers are with his new wife. I was just at his wedding three months ago,” said AIA chief operating officer Chuck Schmidt. “Art was a man who dedicated his life to advancing education and the lives of children. He will be missed. He was a good friend.”
The AIA released a statement later Wednesday afternoon, which, in part, read: "The AIA Staff and Executive Board wish to offer their condolences to the Higley Unified School District, family members and friends of Executive Board President, Art Wagner. All of us are grieving this tremendous loss to our community and want to express our appreciation for Art’s long term dedication to education and interscholastic activities."
Wagner had previously worked at McClintock High School in Tempe and Ahwatukee’s Mountain Pointe High School, both part of the Tempe Union High School District.
"Art was someone who always put others in front of himself, whether it be kids, coaches or parents," said Mountain Pointe athletic director Ian Moses, adding that he was still trying to make sense of the news.
Mountain Pointe principal Bruce Kipper shared that he, Wagner, and other educators golfed together during the summer months.
"I have known Art for almost 20 years. ... Art was larger than life. He had that Texas confidence, as I like to say, that drove him to be a leader," Kipper said. "Yet he always had this fun-loving demeanor that made him very likable. It was hard not to have fun being around Art."
Tempe Union superintendent Kenneth Baca released a statement to district employees mid-morning.
“It is with great sadness that I inform you of the passing of Art Wagner, former Tempe Union employee and athletic director,” Baca said. “I know this will be difficult for many of us as Art was a beloved man who did many great things.”
A “Celebration of Life” service to honor Wagner is scheduled for Monday, May 20, at 6 p.m. at the Higley Center for the Performing Arts, 4132 E. Pecos Road, Gilbert.
Kyle Odegard and Stacie Spring of the East Valley Tribune and Jason Skoda of the Ahwatukee Foothills News contributed to this report.