He taught. He inspired. He was a friend. And today, his team will pay tribute. You have probably heard too much about how Scott Gardner died by now and not enough about how he lived...
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Charlotte Observer

So today, on the day of Gardner's funeral, let's talk about baseball.

Gardner loved the sport. For the past two years, he not only was a teacher at the Highland School of Technology in Gastonia, he also coached the baseball team.

Today, Gardner's players plan to suit up for him one more time. They will button up their home baseball jerseys over their white dress shirts to honor their coach, whose funeral is at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church in Mount Holly.

"Coach Gardner would tell our ball team that he loved us, and you knew he meant it," said Jared Thomas, 17, a rising high school senior who played for Gardner the past two seasons. "He cared for the game, but he cared even more about his players."

Gardner taught his players how to take the extra base and how not to take a called third strike. He demanded their focus and gave them his time. At first they respected him. Later, they adored him.

The coach told his players how he could bench-press more than 300 pounds when he was a college baseball player at Charleston Southern from 1991-94. They would tease Gardner and say he was too old to do it now, because when you're 17, someone like a 33-year-old coach seems ancient.

Said Josh Featherstone, Gardner's starting left fielder at Highland Tech: "At first he was just my coach, but then he became my friend. That happened to a lot of us."

Gardner brought his wife and two young children -- 5-year-old son Jackson and 2-year-old daughter Avery -- to some of the home games at Sims Legion Park. The players' parents would get a kick at how Jackson would roam through the bleachers pushing every single seat, up and down, up and down.

"Coach loved his kids," Featherstone said. "He was always talking about them. When they came to the games, he was always rubbing Jackson's head and stuff."

Gardner was killed a week ago today in an auto accident on N.C. 130 near Wilmington. He had pointed the family's Subaru station wagon toward the beach, planning on a vacation with his wife, Tina, and the children.

Coming the other way in a Ford truck was Ramiro Gallegos, an illegal Mexican immigrant with a history of drunken driving. Gallegos ran off the road, over-corrected and crossed the center line, a state trooper said.

The truck slammed into the station wagon. Gardner was killed. His wife remains in critical condition in a Wilmington hospital. Both children suffered minor injuries.

Gallegos is in a Brunswick County jail, charged with DWI and second-degree murder.

News of Gardner's death spread fast among the players, mostly from one cell phone to another. Featherstone got an urgent call from another teammate a few hours after the crash.

Lee Dedmon, a former North Carolina basketball player, is the principal at Highland. Two years ago, he hired Gardner to teach digital communications and to coach.

"Scott instilled a lot of character in our players," Dedmon said. "He was an encourager. He didn't scream or yell. It's sometimes tough to win athletically at our school, but we made drastic improvement on the field."

Highland Tech's won-loss record in most sports, including baseball, isn't good. Most students apply to Highland, a magnet school, because of its sterling academic reputation.

But Gardner didn't despair about the frequent losses. Instead, he tried to improve his team and himself. He found a coaching mentor in Henry Jones, the legendary Cherryville High baseball coach who has won six state championships.

"Scott liked to talk baseball," Jones said. "Once, I sat on the Highland bus during a rain delay and that's all we did. What kids were like, how to get the most out of them -- those sorts of things. This whole deal just tears me up. A young coach like that."

There was far more to Gardner's life than baseball, of course. He was devoted to his family. He was a strong Christian who was a church deacon. He was a well-liked high school teacher who, according to Dedmon, had enrolled in some administrative courses with the idea of one day becoming a principal.


Baseball was just his game. But he loved it.