Bruce Kipper called the Tempe Union High School District home for 32 years, making lifelong friends and memories along the way.
But as he and his wife, Julie, inched closer toward potential retirement, they explored options both in and out of state to call home. When presented with the opportunity to take over as principal for Shelton High School in Shelton, Washington, Kipper knew it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“We looked at states like Montana, other cities here in Arizona and Florida for the beaches,” Kipper said of his and Julie’s retirement plans. “We hadn’t really thought about Washington. I wasn’t sure about it at first but then did some research and saw all they were doing to improve the school. I applied and didn’t hear anything for about a month.
“Out of the blue the superintendent called me and asked if I still wanted to interview and I said I did. About 20 minutes after the interview he offered me the job.”
Mark Smith, the former head football coach at Liberty High School in Peoria, was hired in March to take over the Shelton program. A Shelton alum, Smith was asked if he knew of anyone that would fit what the district was looking for in a new principal, someone that would lead by example and help improve the athletic programs. Smith immediately thought of Kipper.
Once hired, Kipper announced he would resign as Tempe Union district athletic director at the end of the school year.
Kipper’s path to becoming an educator came after a successful baseball career.
He was drafted by the Texas Rangers in 10th round of the 1983 MLB Draft out of Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. He spent four years in the Rangers’ farm system. Following his baseball career, he was hired at Tempe High School to teach math and coach the baseball program. After four years, he moved to Mountain Pointe where he was a guidance counselor for seven years before he transferred to McClintock. He then transferred back to Mountain Pointe where he eventually became principal for 10 years.
Kipper also worked as a counselor for MLB players athletes battling alcohol and drug addiction. In 2018, when he was hired as the district athletic director for Tempe Union, he stopped his work as a counselor.
“It was a lot of work,” Kipper said. “I traveled all summer and during spring training working at the school then going to the complexes on weekends. So, I decided to take a break from that.”
Kipper has made memories that will last a lifetime during his time with Tempe Union. In 1992, he led the Tempe baseball program to a state championship. As principal at Mountain Pointe, he played a role in hiring former Pride football coach Norris Vaughan, who led the program to its only state title in 2013.
But his favorite memory came in 2010, when Mountain Pointe became the first Tempe Union school to receive the A-plus award from the Arizona Education Foundation.
“It took a lot of work by a lot of people to achieve that award,” Kipper said. “We were the first school in the district to get it and it was really hard. Most schools don’t even apply because they know they won’t get it.”
Kipper’s new role at Shelton will revolve heavily around academic and athletic success at the school. The district has already taken initiative to do this by passing a $64 million bond to make improvements to the school’s main academic building, build a new 6,000-square-foot weight room and renovate the gym.
They’re also in the process of installing turf fields to the baseball and softball fields.
“They’ve made a huge commitment,” Kipper said, “and I was like, ‘wow, these guys want to be really good.’”
Taking over for Kipper as athletic director at Tempe Union is Mesa High Athletic Director David Huffine, who was officially hired on Tuesday, May 12. While Kipper didn’t play a role in the hiring process, he believes the district is in good hands with Huffine going forward.
Huffine will officially take over as district athletic director on July 1.
“I think he will be great,” Kipper said of Huffine. “When he walks in the room, he has this presence about him. I didn’t know David Huffine before last year, but I realized quickly it wouldn’t be long before he would be in a district or school leadership position.”
Kipper and Julie plan to keep their home in Arizona, as Julie will travel back to the Arizona State campus at least once a month where she works as the executive director of Sun Devil Fitness.
Kipper said he will still attend Tempe Union games on occasion to show support for the district that did the same for him the last 32 years.
“If you would have told me at 26 or 27 when I started that I would be here for 32 years, I would have told you that you were nuts,” Kipper said. “I get a little teared up thinking about it. Almost all of my friends work in the district.
“This district gave me a home and made me feel like I was part of something."