The handwritten note on a piece of paper is taped to Dave Shapiro’s office window. It rested there Wednesday either as a joke or to mock his peers:
“48 days until students report. 42 for administration.”
Shapiro won’t be there. Once the first week of June concludes, he’s playing permanent hooky after 31 years in the Chandler Unified School District as a teacher and coach, the last 15 as Chandler High’s athletic director.
The school’s 21 state titles in his tenure are notable, but the non-trophy contributions of this former driver’s education (at 5 a.m.), history, business, computer programming and sociology teacher, are his true championships.
A longtime teacher — his grandmother, mother and wife were all teachers — cross country and track coach, he was roped into running athletics in 1997 when former principal Bob Caccamo gave him the “option” between helping with game management and security at games, or teaching a fifth class.
It wasn’t really an option.
He worked in a mortuary at night in his early teaching days at the school to help make ends meet, and made $600 per year to be an A.D. his first few years, but after 60-70-hour weeks for six months per year for 15 years, he leaves with his sense of humor, work-a-holic ways and demeanor firmly entrenched in 30 years’ worth of staff, peers, coaches, kids and security guards.
“One of the best people put on this earth,” former football coach Jim Ewan said. “He’s the poster child for doing things the right way. I hope they realize what a good deal they had for 30 years.”
The Chandler Rotary track meet’s rise from a 10-school, boys-only meet to a 105-school extravaganza begins and ends with Shapiro. The Nike Tournament of Champions for volleyball (October) and basketball (December) are national events, and his doing. Same goes for the Ojo Rojo cross country meet each fall and the track and field state championship meets every May.
“He’s a workhorse,” Chandler district athletic director Marcus Williams said. “He knew every nook and cranny and his sense of pride for Chandler and its history just glows.”
His office is lined with photos, souvenirs and artifacts dating back to 1915 which he’s still sifting through and organizing to give to the district office. His computer has a database of eight sports with year, coach, record, postseason results and any other noteworthy events for each sport and season going back 98 years. He’s the go-to-guy for the Chandler Sports Hall of Fame’s creation and growth.
All this from a 5-foot-9, 140-pound 56-year-old with a mustache.
“I want people to not know what I look like,” he said during setup for the school’s graduation on Wednesday, the final 16-hour work day of his career. “I abhor attention and don’t like beating my own drum, and I’m more embarrassed when others do.”
There are two moments which will haunt Shapiro most: There was a computer flaw in the school’s grading system which incorrectly ruled two players ineligible, forcing the Wolves to sit out the 1999 boys basketball state tournament. Eleven years later, former star quarterback Brett Hundley didn’t get the ball on 4th-and-1 at the 3-yard line late in a 38-35 first-round playoff loss to Desert Ridge.
Both, he says, are worse than an 0-17 all-time record against Hamilton in football.
The kids, coaches, and events such as the Nike TOC, Chandler Rotary and Chandler Sports Hall of Fame (where he himself should be a unanimous first-ballot entrant) will be his legacy; a legacy which still trails the kind of person he is.
“He’d get calls from teachers to let them into their classrooms on Saturday or Sunday, day or night, and he’d drive over to the school and let them in,” Ewan said. “He couldn’t and wouldn’t say no to anybody.”
He’s nearly cleaned out his office, but he’ll almost certainly have a stake in the Rotary, cross country and track meets (hopefully including the state meet) and the Chandler HOF on his plate.
The rest will be spent tending to his wife (“for about a week until she can’t stand me again”), children whom he dragged to every event growing up because of his work and watching a few high school games without worry for once.
There’s also 4 1/2 acres of farmland in Chandler where he’s grown pecans, tomatoes, peaches, watermelon, blackberries and more since be bought a small parcel of land in the early 1980s. It’s where he spent weekends, nights, whatever tiny amount of downtime he’s had in 25 years. In 2011 he was in charge of the state track meet until midnight that Saturday night, and was out at his farm irrigating the soil by 2 a.m. Sunday morning.
“He’ll have no clue about what retirement is supposed to be,” Ewan said.
That’s probably a good thing for him.
Asked what would read on his professional tombstone, he paused for nearly a minute as he rocked back in his office chair:
“I know we didn’t do it right all the time, but I know we tried.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.