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Passing the torch: Gardners retire as District 93 athletic directors

Hillcrest High School athletic director Barney Gardner and Bonneville athletic director Dale Gardner pose for a portrait Friday at Thunder Stadium. Both men are retiring as athletic directors and completed their final work days last week. Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com


After careers spanning nearly four decades, Dale Gardner and Barney Gardner have finished the way they started together.

Their time as athletic directors of Bonneville and Hillcrest high schools, respectively, concluded last week. The Gardners, who are not related, said they haven’t truly had a day where they weren’t “on call” since being hired as athletic directors in 2004. They’ve spent countless hours creating athletic schedules, hiring coaches, completing academic eligibility paperwork, traveling to (and occasionally hosting) state tournaments and attending meetings across Idaho.

They both said the time was right to call it quits.

“Parts of my job I used to love are starting to irritate me,” Barney said with a laugh. “It was just time. As of right now, I just plan on spending more time in the mountains riding my horses.”

“An athletic director has a lot of hours and long days, but it also has a lot of rewards and a lot of relationships and memories,” Dale said.It was a hard decision. I loved every minute of what I did.”

Their retirements end the careers of two of the area’s longest-tenured administrators. Barney worked in District 93 for 30 years, including stops at Bonneville, Hillcrest and Lincoln high schools. Dale spent 34 years in the district. While both men said they will not miss the long hours, they treasure the people they’ve met along the way.

“Those kids who played for me are now coaching,” Barney said. “You just get to know more and more people every year and they advance. It’s a community here.”

Shared paths

Before simultaneous hires at rival schools, the Gardners first landed at Bonneville.

Dale wrestled for Utah State after graduating from South Fremont High School in 1976 and received his bachelor’s degrees in education and coaching. He was hired as wrestling coach at Bonneville Junior High School (later North Bonneville Junior High School and ultimately Rocky Mountain Middle School) in 1983 before being hired two years later as head wrestling coach and assistant football coach at Bonneville High School.

A 1975 Bonneville graduate, Barney played football for Treasure Valley Community College, coached at Idaho Falls High School for two years and then attended Montana Western, where he received a bachelor’s degree in education. He joined Dale at Bonneville in 1987, teaching health and serving as head football coach from 1993-99. The Gardners’ similar responsibilities and identical last names prompted humor and confusion.

“We were known as big Gardner and little Gardner,” Barney said.

From Bonneville, Barney went to Lincoln High School for two years. Mike Jorgensen’s retirement as District 93 athletic director in 2004 created athletic director job openings at Bonneville and Hillcrest, which the Gardners filled. They still saw each other in meetings and by planning the rivalry games, including painting the 50-yard line logo together before every Civil War football game.

Barney said there were disagreements, but always respect.

“If you tried to do this and every other AD was your enemy, this would be a very lonely job,” Barney said. “We were in this together. He’s helped me a ton.”

Dale said the same was true for Barney, whom he called straight forward and organized.

“We were always able to separate the job from the friendship,” Dale said. “That’s something I’ve always valued with him. He’s anawesome guy.”

The Gardners have gone from helping each other to helping their successors, who were hired in May. Bonneville’s new athletic director is 1995 Bonneville graduate Tyler Johnson. Retired Idaho Falls High School head volleyball coach Wendy Johnson will replace Barney at Hillcrest. And 1998 Bonneville graduate Cody Jackson will move from girls basketball coach at Hillcrest to the athletic director of Thunder Ridge, which opens in 2018.

While Jackson joked that he is the “odd man out” as Bonneville and Hillcrest go from two Gardners to two Johnsons, he said working with both Gardners has shown him the value of staying organized, communicating clearly and treating athletes and colleagues properly.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, how long you’ve been there, what your last name is, they are fair to every single person,” Jackson said.

Turning the page

Decades in the district gave both Gardners front row seats to greatness.

For Barney, Hillcrest’s run to the 2008 4A state football title under first-year coach Darin Owens tops the list. The Knights dropped their first game under Owens to extend the program’s losing streak to 23 before winning the next 11.

“Watching things unfold, I told my wife toward the end of the season, ‘These guys might just win the whole thing and run the gauntlet,’” Barney said. “Sure as hell, they did.”

Dale said seeing parents greet athletes after state tournaments regardless of outcomes is always powerful. Seeing his daughter and his son, whom he coached in his final season as head wrestling coach, wear Bonneville’s green and gold were particularly vivid memories.

“Sitting in the corner when he won the state championship was pretty special,” Dale said. “To see my daughter compete in three sports volleyball, basketball and track was a great opportunity for me.”

Both Gardners look forward to retirement Barney owns a race horse and Dale wants to catch up on missed hunting and fishing trips with his son and not being on call.

“When the phone rings, I won’t have to wonder, ‘What went wrong now? What broke?’” Dale said with a laugh.

They will continue following the Knights and Bees as spectators, however, although Barney said instinct may kick in temporarily.

“When something goes wrong, panic will probably set in, then I’ll go, “Oh. I don’t have to worry about that,’” he said.

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