Eric Kibler, who began Scottsdale Horizon’s baseball program 39 years ago and was ousted one year before he was ready to retire, returned home Monday for a night he won’t forget.
Kibler, who won a state-record 808 games in 38 years, had his No. 1 jersey placed on the right-field wall, forever retired at Husky Park.
“It’s been great, it’s been fun,” Kibler said.
The state’s all-time winningest coach joins seven players whose numbers were retired after playing for him: Tim Alderson (No. 32), Tim Huff (14), Tim Esmay (5), Chip Gosewisch (3), Tuffy Gosewisch (2), Jayson Durocher (21) and Jared Berkowitz (10).
“I say just take down all of us and just put him up there,” said Esmay, who was Kibler’s first star, a catcher who graduated in 1983, went on to play and coach at Arizona State and is now coaching in the Chicago White Sox organization.
Kibler’s vision from the start was to grow Horizon’s baseball facility into one of the best not only in Arizona but in America.
“He would get me out of class and have me mow the grass,” Esmay said. “I’d take the clippings and throw it on the grass so it would look green.”
Among Kibler’s accomplishments was having his high school field recognized as the best in the nation.
He also won 20 region titles, six state titles and three runner-ups from 1995-2010, as well as a national championship in 2007, according to StudentSports.com. Thirty-four of his players were taken in the Major League Baseball draft and 151 played college baseball.
Alderson, a first-round pick who was the star pitcher on that 2007 team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation, was in the visiting dugout, part of Notre Dame’s coaching staff, getting ready to play Horizon after Monday’s ceremony for Kibler.
“The support that he has now showed that everybody wanted him,” Alderson said. “It would be pointless to leave him off the wall. He’s bigger than the players.”
A large group of alumni, including current Horizon head coach Jeff Urlaub, was there Monday for Kibler, who gave credit to all of them for his jersey being retired.
“It’s really about everybody who is here tonight,” Kibler said. “It’s not just about me. That number when you look at it, guys, that’s all part of you out there. You made it all happen. We had a great 38 years here. Nobody can take that away from us.”
Shirley and Eric Kibler had two daughters. Shirley said that the Horizon baseball players always “his sons.”
“He built everything from the ground up and made it one of a kind,” Urlaub said. “As selfless of a man he is, tonight was all about honoring him and what he deserves. This obviously goes down as the most special night in my coaching career and it is an honor to be able to give that to him.”
Kibler was pushed out by administration last year. The administration never explained why Kibler couldn’t have one more season. Kibler said in the last monnth of last season that he was told it was because of a negative culture, from which he added he didn’t know how that was derived. Linda Ihnat, Horizon’s principal, was asked to respond to that, but only said at the time, “You will need to ask him.”
It sparked an outcry from the Horizon baseball community with more than 175 letters of support sent to administration. Green T-shirts were made with “We (heart symbol) Coach Kibler’s culture,” on them.
Kibler, now 70, fought the school and the Paradise Valley district for one more year, but to no avail, before giving up the keys.
His last game as coach was April 25, 2018, a 7-2 6A tournament play-in loss to Phoenix Brophy Prep.
He had a long, emotional embrace with shortstop Kody Huff after that game.
Monday, they embraced again after Kibler threw out the first pitch to Huff, a senior who signed with Stanford.
This time there was joy.
Huff capped a memorable night with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the eighth to send Horizon to a 4-3 win over Notre Dame.
Lost in the moment is what this night was supposed to be about. Couldn’t have asked for a more story-book ending to a night where alumni, coaches, players, and fans came together to honor the best baseball coach in AZ high school history, Coach Eric Kibler. Forever a Husky ❤️ #1 https://t.co/YMSbGQuh8O
— Kody huff (@Kodyhuff2) March 26, 2019
“The mentor he has been to not only me but my family, including my brothers, who played for him, as well as my son, he has left such a positive impact on family,” Tim Huff said. “It is only fitting that not only his number but also his legacy will stand alone with the No. 1.”
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