After 11 seasons, Gary Gardner has stepped down as the coach of the Stillwater High baseball program.

Gardner turned in his resignation Friday, the day after his team’s 24-14 campaign came to an end.

“This is something I’ve been thinking about for probably the last month,” Gardner said. “I’m getting out of education completely. I have a business opportunity to pursue. At this point, it’s the best thing for me and my family.”

The 1994 Oklahoma State graduate took over the program in 1998. In 11 seasons, he went 301-133 (.694) with six State Tournament berths.

The Pioneers had not been to the final tournament in 13 years before he took over. They broke the school record of 27 wins by going 33-12 that first year and won at least 31 games each of the six seasons he took them to the State Tournament.

They reached the state finals in 2001 and won the Frontier Conference in 1999 and ’01. They also claimed the inaugural Centennial Conference title this spring and advanced to the Regional final for the 10th time in his 11 campaigns.

“This is an awesome community for a baseball coach,” said Gardner, who noted this was a tough decision. “We’ve got a little league program that is very dedicated. We have parents that spend an awful lot of time and money trying to give their kids a chance for success. This is a good town to be a baseball coach.”

The list of talented players Gardner coached is long and includes the likes of MLB All-Star Matt Holliday, first-round draft choice Josh Fields and second-round selection Brett Anderson.

Anderson, a left-handed pitcher, is the son of Oklahoma State coach Frank Anderson, who praised Gardner.

“I thought Gary was outstanding especially with Brett,” Frank said. “At times you see a lot of coaches abuse kids pitching-wise, but I thought he treated Brett very fair.

“When you move to a new community, you’re not sure what to expect, but I thought he did a great job. He treated the kids well and was very highly organized.

Director of Athletics Mike Simpson said Gardner is “one of the best coaches in the state.”

“While we support his desire to spend more time with his family, we’re disappointed that he will no longer be connected to a program that he worked so hard to build,” Simpson said. “Gary is a team player as well. When I asked him to assist in football due to staffing shortages (after an eight-year absence from the football staff), he accepted the challenge.

“That is a rarity at the 6A level with coaches of his success. We will miss his leadership within our department.”

Simpson added, “He cared enough about kids to step up when he knew we needed it. That’s something I’ll always appreciate.

The coach said he had made the decision over the last month and had decided this season would be his last, regardless of how it ended.

The Pioneers nearly reached the State Tournament on Thursday. They had won three straight do-or-die games before dropping a 6-2 contest at No. 3 Broken Arrow in the Regional Tournament finale.

SHS was up 2-1 in the fifth of that game, which followed the Pioneers’ 11-0 run-ruling of BAHS.

“We didn’t want the kids to know (I was resigning),” Gardner said. “We wanted to keep their focus on the task at hand. We weren't going to change anything about the way we were doing things. I really wanted to win because I knew going into it this would be my last one.

“Every coach wants to go out on top. I knew this would be some icing on the cake for me.”

He said he will miss competing, the players and the game itself.

“This is an issue of time,” the married father of two said. “I want to use my time to be with my kids and my family more. I’ll still be working with kids in different aspects, but it will be more on my time. I’ll be able to dictate that time a little better.”

Simpson said he met with the Pioneers after Gardner informed them of his decision on Friday.

“I met with the team and told them we’ll look to find the best fit (for a new coach),” Simpson said. “One thing I’ve learned in doing this is everybody involved thinks it ought to happen faster than it does.”

Gardner will finish the school year in his position as history teacher.

“I’d like to say thanks to an awful lot of people but can’t say thanks to them all,” he said. “The parents have been fantastic. The community has supported our program immensely. People don’t realize, probably, outside of the program what we ask of this community for baseball.

“You go out to our park and you see signs everywhere. We take trips to Phoenix. The improvement we’ve made at the ballpark over the years. Those things take a lot of money and a lot of support. This community has never turned their back on our baseball program.”

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