A man who has been a life-long resident of the Rim Country and attended local schools from kindergarten through high school has been named Payson High’s new athletic director.
Gary Fishel will replace Rob Varner who has run the school’s athletic program since the onset of 2010 school year.
Varner will return full time to his duties as principal of Julia Randall Elementary School.
In addition to Fishel serving as the high school AD, he will become the lead teacher at Payson Center for Success.
Fishel has been working as a language and visual arts teacher at Rim Country Middle School since 2005.
He also served a stint as a language arts teacher at Pine Strawberry School where he also was the athletic director and Hands-Across-the-Border coordinator.
From 1999 to 2001 he was a math and art teacher at Loma Linda School in the Phoenix Creighton school district.
Fishel has a varied work history outside the education profession including being a U.S. postal service mail carrier, a police and fire 911 dispatcher, a sales associate at a lumber supply store and even worked on a Vision Quest wagon train for troubled youth.
He also served a four-year stint as a non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Army as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division. He calls himself, “a proud veteran of the First Gulf War” during which he obtained certification “in CPR and first aid with training to perform first response medical aid as a ‘combat lifesaver’ for battlefield casualties.”
In 1994, Fishel earned a bachelor’s of arts in education from Arizona State University and just last December received a master’s of arts in education administration from Grand Canyon University.
He graduated from Payson High School in 1983.
At PHS, he was a member of the Longhorns 1981 state championship football team and says, “sports are a passion in my life and I welcome the opportunity to help Payson High attain and maintain a high standard of sportsmanship, scholarship and citizenship with a successful and honorable athletic program the community can be proud of.”
Among those who applaud the hiring of Fishel is Lady Longhorn volleyball coach Arnold Stonebrink.
“I’ve worked with him before at the middle school and at Pine Strawberry School,” Stonebrink said. “He did a nice job at both and I feel he will be very supportive of coaches as issues come up.
“He seems committed to creating an environment that is conducive to good coaches staying in Payson.”
Fishel has wasted little time in getting acclimated to his first-ever high school position.
“Unofficially he is already working with Rob Varner on the transition and will be attending AIA meetings,” said PUSD Superintendent Casey O’Brien. “July 1 will be the official transition date.”
Fishel’s biggest challenge as a first-year AD could be dealing with the AIA-mandated reconfiguration that goes into effect next school year for all team sports.
This past year, the realignment affected only individual sports like golf, track and field and wrestling.
In the new system, region and conferences have been done away with and replaced with sections and divisions.
Eliminating all 5A, 4A, 3A, 2A and 1A conference labels and replacing them with division and sectional competition is an AIA effort to cut down on the number of state tournaments, reduce travel time, cut expenses and possibly hack away at the number of classes student-athletes miss.
In football the number of state championships has been reduced from seven to six, the number of state tournament softball games will fall to close to 100 from 179 and the number of golf courses needed for state finals will drop to three from the 30-plus needed last year.
While there are those applauding the changes, there are undoubtedly kinks in it that all prep ADs must iron out next school year.
Similar cost-cutting changes will take place in most all sports and a big part of Fishel’s job will be to oversee those modifications that will have a huge impact on high school sports.