For nearly two hours on Monday night, stories were shared, laughs were loud and Kleenex was out in full force.
It was all about Art.
The estimated 1,000 people inside Higley’s Center for the Performing Arts — and a whole lot more who were unable to attend — made their feelings known about Art Wagner, the Higley district athletic director, Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board President and do-everything security guard, coach, teacher, administrator of 25 years who died a week ago from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Everyone came to this “party:” players, peers, administrators, athletic directors, coaches, school board members, and Gilbert mayor John Lewis. There were photo and video montages, a collection of state and national administrative awards, old football gear from his days in West Texas, and a “Wedding Towel” replication of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ “Terrible Towel.”
AIA Executive Director Harold Slemmer and chief operating officer Chuck Schmidt both gave resonating speeches, and one after another of friends, former co-workers, staff and others formed a processional to the microphones.
The most important moment, however, came from Kat Hughes, Wagner’s wife of three months whose world is completely turned upside down. She spoke briefly, eloquently, even threw in some humor, and somehow held herself together emotionally in those couple minutes (nobody else did).
“Take care of yourself and allow others to help you,” was one of Kat’s last lines delivered.
It’s unfair to speculate, and yet difficult not to wonder — given his “yes” attitude, drive and physical ailments Art possessed — if Kat was sending out a public service announcement of her own.
Is this all what drove Art to these horrific actions? We’ll never really know.
But even the one person most painfully affected by this situation, acknowledged that Wagner’s worries, quandaries and, perhaps, pitfalls, existed.
Will the rest of us learn something from this?
The wonderment moving forward while schools’ and districts’ staff and budgets continue being cut across the Valley and Arizona, is whether any of us, or anything will change.
The most obviously-affected are those whose jobs were lost — and Higley went through budget cuts the past couple years — but those who remain are often left to do more, and more, and more.
Most of us don’t necessarily have Art’s energy, eagerness to help at all hours of the day or night, or incessant need to either be or help create the “solution” all the time. They were his greatest strengths in life, and, perhaps, a weakness.
Wagner’s smile was one of his trademarks. So was “It’s all good.”
But it wasn’t, because last Wednesday happened, and Monday night’s “celebration” of his had to happen decades prematurely.
The state continues to struggle financially with resources and financial/staffing support for its schools, let alone athletic departments.
So for the betterment of ourselves, our teachers’ and administrators’ sanity, can we find a way to survive — or even thrive — by saying “no” once in awhile?
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.