ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Just months after the death of a beloved local high school baseball coach, he’s being honored in a big way.
Soon the baseball field where he inspired so many young athletes will bear his name.
Sandia High School Coach John Gunther lost his battle with cancer in March.
It didn’t take long for school administrators and students to start efforts to make sure Coach Gunther’s legacy lived on.
“Wake up every day wondering how you can be a better man than you were yesterday.”
They are words recent graduate, Erik Neal says he will never forget.
“That shook my whole world. Ever since then I’ve lived to that every day,” Neal said
Those powerful words were spoken by Sandia High School baseball coach and teacher John Gunther after another day on the ball field years ago.
Those are the same words Neal repeated on his graduation day, just months after the passing of the man he called a father figure.
“He treated everyone on the field, not a player, not even a utility but he treated everybody as his son,” Neal explained.
Today, the Sandia Matador’s field is empty, waiting for next season’s players.
But, soon it’ll honor a six season head coach who led his team to a state championship game twice.
“John would not be happy that we have done what we’ve done I will tell you this,” said Sandia High School Pricipal Larry D’Anza.
“He never wanted the field to be named for him because that’s not the person he was. We all feel this was a tribute not only to him but to the students he impacted over the years,” he said. Rallying support for the name change wasn’t hard.
“It’ll be very nostalgic for sure and very emotional,” explained Neal, wondering what he will feel stepping on the field again.
A new sign baring Coach Gunther’s name is planned.
“Honoring the man that changed my life,” Neal said.
New Matadors coach Chris Eaton worked with Gunther.
“Just honoring him in some way was really important,” said Eaton. “To name the field that’s really the most lasting impactful thing you can do.”
Matadors outfielder Joseph Barreras found out about the news late Thursday evening and was thrilled.
“He was a great guy and it’s an honor to be able to remember him every time we step on the field and play our hearts out every time we know he’s on the field with us,” said Barreras.
Gunther was a teacher and coach at the school for 16 years. He was the head coach of the Matadors baseball program for six years. He lost his battle with stage four colon cancer in March. Gunther was 55-years-old.
The name change was approved this week.
They hope to have the new signs ready for next spring’s baseball season.
Hundreds of people showed up to Coach Gunther’s memorial service in March.
He was married and had four children.