AKRON – Duane Burkhart has many fond memories of his 35 years at Tippecanoe Valley High School.
One of the best, and also funniest, involves arguably the most-beloved man ever connected to the school.
Scott Bibler. the former football coach and longtime guidance counselor at TVHS, was a friend to anyone who met him.
That definitely included Burkhart, who was best friends with the man affectionately known simply as “Bibs.”
“We were playing a football game down at Southwood and Bibs got tossed in the first half,” recounted Burkhart. “I was keeping stats at the time for the team and I was talking to the side judge trying to get an explanation and figure out the penalty yards.
“The referee looks over and he kicks me out of the game too. Bibs and I spent the rest of the game in the locker room listening to the game on the radio. The SouthWood AD felt so bad about it that he brought us popcorn and drinks.”
For the record, Valley won that game by a 28-7 final in 2000 as then assistant coach Jeff Shriver took over the team for the remainder of the game.
Burkhart, who is set to retire at the end of the school year, counted Bibler as one of his nearest and dearest friends. Bibler, along with former Valley football coach and Warsaw city councilman Charlie Smith, his son Scott, and former sprint car driver Tony Elliott were tragically killed in a plane crash in South Carolina as they flew to attend the Notre Dame at Clemson football game in October of 2015.
Burkhart, who has spent the last 24 years as the Valley Athletic Director, has no trouble pinpointing the toughest day in his long career at Valley.
“The night Scott and the others were killed,” said Burkhart with tears running down his cheeks as he sat in his office Monday. “We were playing at Rochester. That was a tough night. We were close. Bibs just impacted so many people in this school and in this community.”
“I think about him and miss him every day.”
The press box at the Valley football field is now named the Scott Bibler Memorial Press Box in honor of Bibler, who was also nicknamed the “Mayor of Mentone”. The press box, which was completed prior to the 2016 season, was donated by the Bibler family, his wife Stephanie and daughters Chelsea and Megan.
The field where the Vikings play is now named Smith-Bibler Memorial Field-Home of Death Valley Football, in honor of Bibler and Charlie Smith, the man who coached the Vikings to a state championship in 1979.
Burkhart, who is just the second AD in school history, says that he has thoroughly enjoyed his long tenure as a coach, teacher and AD at Valley.
“I’ve been very blessed to do what I love for the last 35 years,” said Burkhart, who came to Valley in 1982. “I just want to thank our School Board and our community here for that privilege.
“I have enjoyed being the AD the last 24 years. I’ve never had bad days. I’ve had some trying days, but not bad ones. I’m going to miss the day-to-day contact with our students, our teachers and our coaching staff.”
Burkhart, who is 57, admits though that he is ready to step away.
“I’ve always had a goal to retire early and I’m blessed to be able to see that occur,” Burkhart explained. “I want to step back and enjoy life with my wife (Angie) while we are in good health.
“I know that I need to thank Angie and my boys (sons Britton and Taylor) for their support all these years. There’s been a lot of 12-15 hour days and I have put my family on the back burner. That’s the nature of coaching and being an AD. I’m fortunate that I have a spouse who was supportive and who loved sports.”
“I feel like I have been grinning ear-to-ear every day this year. I’m sure that Emily (athletic administrative assistant Emily Gearhart) is tired of seeing me grin so much.”
Burkhart says that he plans to spend more time with his family first and foremost now. He also plans to be on the golf course even more now and do some traveling, especially to a warmer climate during the cold Indiana winters, which he is no fan of.
“We have two grandkids now and a third one on the way soon,” commented Burkhart. “I also want to spend more time now with my parents (who live in Huntington).”
Burkhart, who was 113-42 as the Valley girls basketball coach from 1987-95, says his focus has always been on a team approach when it comes to running a high school athletic department.
“It’s not been about me, but about we,” emphasized Burkhart, who has also been the head baseball coach, track coach and a football assistant during his time at Valley. “I’ve been blessed that we have had so many coaches and other people who help with our athletics (such as scorekeepers, announcers, etc.) who have been here at Valley for years.
“We’re a team and we have worked together. The bottom line is that myself and the coaches are working together for the good of the school. My role was to support our coaches and athletes so that they could be as successful as they could and reach their goals.”
Burkhart, who also teaches psychology and sociology, has overseen an athletic program with its share of ups and downs in a challenging time. The Vikings won 43 Three Rivers Conference titles and 17 sectional championships since 1995 when Burkhart became the AD. The highlight came in 2015 when the girls basketball team was Class 3-A state runner-up.
“I feel good about what we have done here at Valley,” said Burkhart of his tenure as AD. “I do feel that we are very competitive. Everyone wants to win, but that’s not what high school athletics is all about.
“The success we have had is a credit to our coaches and our kids here.”
And a credit to the man who will be greatly missed after 35 years of countless contributions to Valley athletics and its student-athletes at so many levels.
Enjoy retirement Duane.
You have definitely earned it.