Here is a collection of thoughts and stories from those who've crossed paths (personally or professionally) with former Higley district athletic director Art Wagner, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on May 15.
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.
Thoughts or story to share? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll post it here.
"Art Wagner cared about people. He made a difference. He was good for kids. He was my friend. He will be missed."
--Dick Baniszewski, Hamilton assistant principal (former McClintock coach)
"Art was a great person; someone who was always willing to help me with the many questions I had for him. You could always count on Art; always working and trying to help the athletic directors get through the many issues of their job. I will miss his presence at the many meetings and events that he would preside over. He was a good man who will be greatly missed."
--Bob Bitler, Seton Catholic athletic director
"Art was a great mentor to me and many others. Without him, I would not have made it through my first couple of years as an athletic director. I think that I must have called him at least 3 times a day to ask some random question, for which he always had the right answer. He was always patient and willing to help with anything. His passing is a great loss to Arizona athletics."
--Jennifer Burks, Perry athletic director (former Higley athletic director)
"On behalf of the Gilbert District we would like to send our sincere condolences to his family. Art was always a pleasure to work with. He impacted so many people and his loss will be felt by the entire state."
--Mark Cisterna, Gilbert district athletic director
"I still remember the first time I walked into the equipment room at McClintock and was greeted by Art Wagner. He said, 'You must be Collett, you're going to be my center. Lets get you some pads.' Art just always had a way to make people feel good. He was an extremely special person that worked very hard at whatever job he held. He never forgot that Coaching and teaching are about the students. I know when my uncle was hired as the head football coach, he was very proud that Art had been the man that had hired him. Art will be missed."
--Cody Collett, Prescott High School football coach
"I was not directly involved in athletics at McClintock High School, but was a strong supporter. I was the director of choirs for many years and one of my great pleasures was gaining the friendship of Art Wagner. He was such a vital part of students' lives and exhibited true interest and input into what they did and were to become. One thing that will always stick with me about Art was his sincerity and his politeness. He never failed to call me, 'Sir,' even after numerous suggestions that we just should be on a first-name basis. I will truly miss Art Wagner."
--Warren Dennis, former choir teacher McClintock High School
"I first met Art as a security guard at McClintock and watched his growth and progression through the educational process. Regardless of the position Art held, he was always making sure that students were taken care of. He was a fine teacher, administrator and a great person. Art was always meeting people with a smile and willing to help whenever and wherever he was needed, you did not need to ask Art twice. He will be missed by all of us."
--Jim Denton, Combs athletic director
"I had the pleasure of playing for Art at McClintock High School from 2000 to 2004. My mom worked with him as well on campus and he meant alot to many people. I will never forget the words of encouragement he would give and weighlifting with him. He was a coach, a friend, and a mentor to thousands of kids and will always be remembered."
--Marc Dregely (former McClintock football player 2000-2004)
"The last time I spoke with Art was at an Arizona Rattler football game. He was there with his friend, (AIA staff member) Ron Halbach. I am glad I had the opportunity to tell Art that he was a huge inspiration in my life. He was the guy who started at the bottom and worked his way to the top. Along the way, he was loved, respected, and admired by many, including me. I worked with Art at McClintock. He was the security guard and equipment manager when I was there. He was going to school as well as working. I saw a man who was determined to better his life and the lives of others. I had the opportunity to tell Art at the game that he had a huge impact on my life because of his drive and respect for others. His response was, 'Thank you, sir.' That was Art. Art was a good person. When you think of good people you have met or are friends with, he is on your list. He will be missed."
--Steve Glass (Chandler)
"I had got to know Art when I went to McClintock. Art was a security guard there. He was very kind and an all around good person. Art thank you for making high school that much more memorable. Rest in peace friend."
--Trisha Hendrick (McClintock High Class of 1997)
"My first coaching experience was in 1995 at McClintock High. Art was the equipment manager. We became friends. During that time, I met a teacher, and we went on our first date (doubled) with Art and his girlfriend. I married that girl. I will always remember Art."
--Dan Hinds, Desert Vista football coach
"On behalf of the coaches and athletic directors from Mesa Public Schools, we are saddened to hear of the passing of Art Wagner. We appreciated everything Art did on behalf of the student athletes of Arizona. Art was a good person and a hard worker who cared about the well being of athletes throughout the state. Our condolences go out to his family and loved ones."
--Steve Hogen, Mesa district athletic director
“'Sir, yes sir!' This is the way Art answered every request and every time his name was addressed. He was one of the rising stars starting as a security guard, equipment manager and working on his teaching degree then blasting off into teaching, coaching and administration while at McClintock and then on to other schools and districts. Having taught and coached with him at McClintock, he will always be remembered as a player and stayer in teaching with kids and coaching because of his enthusiasm and positive approach to any situation."
--BG Jones, former teacher/coach at McClintock High School
"It is really with a heavy heart that I accept the loss of Art Wagner. He was my colleague. He was one of my bosses. He was a coach loved by his students, and he was my friend. We were saddened when he left McClintock for another opportunity in our district, but we were happy for him. We were proud of him as he continued to pursue his dreams in education at another East Valley District - never losing sight of the number one reason he became an educator, the students. The last time I saw Art, it became clear to me that he had neither lost his love for nor his passion for helping students find their own success. In his positions with the Higley School District, he continued to put student first. I am proud of the job he did. It was obvious that he loved his job and the fact that, through his endeavors, he was able to help teens. As he rose through the ranks, he never forgot about the students - and the fact that we were in the classroom to assure their success. He never lost sight of that. He may have left the classroom, but he never left the students. They were always first in his heart."
--Trish LaDue, McClintock english teacher/yearbook advisor
"Art was a dedicated, caring and giving man on and off duty although he was rarely off duty. He was pleasure to work with regardless of the issue or project and always focused on what was best for the students. The best Board meetings were when he would bring a group of students and parents in for a performance or recognition. His passion and excitement would show, reminding us all of why we were there and refocus us on the students. When faced with problems or setbacks we would briefly share in the disappointment but Art was always quick to explain that even though things may not have gone as well as we had hoped, it pointed out some issues that needed to be addressed. He would say we will get them fixed and we will be better because of it. This was typically followed by an apology for not somehow preventing the issue, even when it was obviously beyond any of our control. No task was too big or too small for Art and at times I would tell him it is ok to take off the suit with the 'S' on his chest occasionally. He will be missed."
--Greg Land, former school board member and friend
"Art was a student of mine as he was earning his Master’s Degree, and I also had the privilege of acting as a mentor and leadership coach in recent years. Art was someone who, I believed, represented the future of public education, and my heart is broken that he will not be a part of that. My prayers and love go also to his wife, Kat Hughes, also a former student. I knew them when they first met each and it seemed that they had found such a strong bond and trusting relationship. Kat, be strong, there is much of life to come. I will miss Art’s generous spirit and incredible passion for education."
--Maria Menconi, Tucson Unified School District Deputy Superintendent
"Art was a great man, he personally helped me here in Queen Creek by always willing to answer my questions and help in any way he could. He will greatly be missed, my thoughts and prayers are with his family."
--Paul Reynolds, Queen Creek athletic director
"I worked with Art at McClintock High where he worked as security guard and equipment manager while he was working on his teaching degree. The guy loved to work, loved kids and had a great day at work every day. No job was too small or too big when Art was involved. The job just got done, plain and simple. He was so proud of growing up in Texas, playing football at Permian High, and like Texas, Art was bigger than life. A quick smile, a big heart and a great guy. He will be missed."
--Brent Rincon, Basha athletic director
"People like Art Wagner come into our lives far too rarely. His combination of character, intergrity and professionalism set the standard for administrative leaders to aspire to. Art was the epitome of service oriented leadership. He was knowledgeable and confident, yet unassuming and humble. He never denied a request for assistance and was always one of the first to volunteer for any project. He will be missed as an educator, athletic director, administrator and most importantly as a friend. The Glendale Union High School District, our athletic directors and coaches offer our sincere condolences to Art's family."
--Jim Threadgill, Glendale district athletic director
"I had the pleasure of working with Art for many years at McClintock High School. I watched him grow from the early days as a security guard, and then into school administration. He also worked for me in the special education dept. He was great with kids, he could always get them to respond positively. He truly will be missed."
--Tom Timpone, former McClintock High School teacher/swimming coach
"Art was a consummate leader, great friend, and wonderful human being. His friendship will be missed."
--Marcus Williams, Chandler district athletic director
"I cannot begin to express how much Art helped me through my high school years. I was just one athlete in a school filled with hundreds more. Art had a way of making every single one of us athletes feel like we were his number one, always encouraging the kids whether it be sitting down with them in his office to discuss their advancements into college athletics to simply being a spectator in the stands showing his support from behind the fence. He had such a big heart and not a single person had anything bad to say about him. I'll never forget how helpful he was - always willing to stay extra hours; he showed up to a Saturday practice after a huge monsoon storm and spent all day with us softball players in the flooded field manually draining the field with buckets. No task was too much for him - he was always willing to help in whatever ways that he could. He played a large part in my advancement into college softball and I will be forever grateful for that. I will miss him dearly."
Brittany Winkler, McClintock High School (Class of 2008)
"On behalf of the both the 4A Conference and Buckeye Union High School District we offer our deepest sympathies to the family, both personal and professional who are grieving over the loss of Art Wagner. He was our esteemed colleague but most of all he was our friend. Art was the 'Gentle Giant', even with his recent loss of weight, he still remained gentle. He was never quick to judge, always offering solutions to problems in a kind and thoughtful manner and he was always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone. As many have said, “He will be missed and missed greatly.”
--Patrick Witter, Buckeye athletic director and AIA 4A Conference Chairman