District Hunting For 2 New Coaches

Gibson, Hardt resignations approved by school board

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The Payson Unified School District has accepted the resignations of two veteran varsity coaches.

At the board's July 1 meeting, the resignations of Lady Longhorn basketball coach Shaun Hardt and girls soccer coach Linda Gibson were confirmed.

Hardt resigned to take over the head football coaching spot at Round Valley High School in Eagar/Springerville, where he also will teach weight training.

Gibson told her returning players that she was stepping down to spend more time with her family.

One of those players, junior Amy Wilcox, said she understood the decision.

"We all think she did the right thing because your family is more important than the team, but every one of us will really miss her," Wilcox said.

Gibson will retain her position as prevention coordinator for the school district.

In resigning, Gibson said it was a difficult decision, but the time demands of coaching were wearing on her family especially her young daughter who was a frequent visitor to practices last fall.

Gibson praised the athletes who played soccer during her five-year tenure.

"I got more from the girls than I ever gave them. They were just an awesome group," she said.

Last fall, Gibson led the Lady Longhorns to one of their most successful seasons in the five-year history of the program. After finishing as the regular season runner-up, the Lady Horns advanced to the state tournament played in Tucson.

An opening round 3-1 victory over Tucson St. Gregory propelled Payson into the state semifinal round.

There, a 3-0 loss to Camp Verde ended the players' season-long goal of earning Payson High its first state soccer championship.

Late in the season, Gibson had to mix and match her roster in order to compensate for the loss of several starters who were sidelined by injuries.

Days prior to the state tournament, Gibson brought up four players from the jayvee team in order to have a full complement of athletes.

In 2000, Gibson coached the Lady Horns to a 7-1-1 region record and into the state tournament where the team was eliminated by a 2-1 first-round loss to Sedona.

During the first three years Gibson was at the helm of the program, small-town girls soccer in Arizona did not feature a state tournament.

Gibson remembers those formulative seasons as a type of rag-tag sports venture in which coaches had to scour the state trying to find enough games to fill a schedule.

"Girls soccer was popular in Tucson and Phoenix, but not here," she said.

The past several seasons, however, the sport has experienced huge gains in popularity.

"Now that we have state tournaments and more schools offering (girls) varsity programs, (the popularity) will keep growing," Gibson said.

The PHS girls program began in 1996, when former varsity boys coach Dave Greiner agreed to coach both a girls and boys varsity team.

"My daughter (Davi-Anne) had played soccer all her life when we lived in California and when we got here I was hoping for a program for her and other girls," Greiner said.

Prior to 1996, the best high school girls could hope for was a position on the boys junior varsity soccer team.

In laying the foundation for the girls program, Greiner learned that Payson High had recently hired a teacher who had played at Northern Arizona University and coached at Grand Canyon High School.

When Gibson eventually arrived in the Rim country to begin her teaching career, Greiner approached her about the coaching job. After some thought, she accepted the challenge of starting the program from scratch.

In looking back, Gibson says she has many fond memories of those early years.

"I can't just point to one (memory), there were lots of them," she said. "Each new team was different, but what they had in common was they were all a really neat groups of girls."

During her coaching stay at PHS, one of the common high school sports problems that Gibson never faced was academic ineligibility.

Last school year, the Lady Longhorns received the Arizona Interscholastic Association's Scholar-Athlete Award for maintaining a 3.5 team grade-point average.

"In all those (coaching) years, I only had two players who ever had a period of ineligibility," she said.

Through the years, Gibson's players built a reputation for being unselfish and team-oriented athletes.

"In our system, each player contributes equally. This makes us a great team," she said during last season's state tournament.

With the resignations of Gibson and Hardt now official, PHS Athletic Director Dave Bradley will advertise the positions in the district. If there are no applicants inside the district, he will open the positions to the public.

Bradley anticipates the girls soccer position will be difficult to fill.

Gibson, who has contacted local coaches asking them if they would be interested, agreed.

"It's kind of funny, but there is not a lot of people who know how, or even want to coach (girls varsity) soccer," she said.

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