The heritage of Peoria High School runs deep.
Layers and layers of past legacies have made it what it is today and William Babb is a prime example of that.
As a student athlete in the 1980s, he led the varsity football team to two state championships, and like a true Hometown Hero, he then returned as head coach, sending the team into a number of post-season runs over the years.
But his contributions go beyond the gridiron, serving as a guidance counselor for Peoria High School students. He works with some of the most at-risk students and families in the district to provide support and resources to help with their future success.
Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman and Babb grew up nurtured by the heritage of Peoria High, and Babb continues that tradition with nearly 30 years of service to the school.
Hickman graduated from Peoria as the football team started to turn a corner from mediocrity to excellence, and he said, that was due in large part to a skinny quarterback who knew how to lead.
Hickman said Babb has devoted his life to a tradition of leadership that Peoria High School has offered up to the generations of families that have matriculated there.
Babb is much more than a coach or even mentor to his students and players, he’s more like a cool father figure, Hickman said.
“Will has to be one of the funniest guys I have ever had the chance to be around. His humor and self-deprecating nature not only disarms you, but induces even the most jaded person into learning a little about what is important — not the least of which is leading an honorable life.”
For his work, Babb has been named the Peoria Independent Hometown Hero in the coach/mentor category.
The Hometown Heroes Awards are a celebration of individuals who live or teach in the city, and Peoria businesses for their local achievements and distinguished contributions to the community.
Babb will be honored at an awards luncheon next year.
In partnership with the city of Peoria, Babb has also been interviewed by the city and aired on Channel 11.
Babb said he has been truly blessed to be around a lot of coaches and teachers who impacted his life and he got into education because he wants young people to experience what he did.
He learned to put kids first and everything else will work out.
“I want kids to be able to experience great things. I want them to go to football and baseball games and pep rallies and be excited about life,” Babb said. “At Peoria High, it is about community. If we watch TV and read news, supposedly we are not supposed to be getting along, but when you are here it is a great place that becomes our reality. They talk about Peoria’s history. We want [students] to experience what’s here because it is a beautiful place.”
By the time he had closed out his senior year with Class of 1988, Babb had accumulated two state football championships in 1986 and 1987, as well as a baseball state championships as a pitcher and first baseman in 1988. Then he went on to play quarterback for Glendale Community College where he helped win a national championship. After that he went on to get his degree in education at Northern Arizona University.
True Hometown Heroes may go away for a while, but they always return home.
In 1993, he did just that and began his career as a teacher at Peoria High School and now is a guidance counselor.
Bobby and Tony Gonzalo were on the coaching staff for those varsity football championships in the 1980s. They helped coach Babb as a player and they are on his coaching staff today.
“He is disciplined as a coach and he requires discipline from the kids. He wants to make it fun, but also wants them to be good role models on and off the field,” Bobby Gonzalo said.
Babb is not only a Peoria High graduate, but a complete product of PUSD, attending Ira A. Murphy Elementary School. He has been working as a guidance counselor for the high school since about 2001.
PHS guidance counselor Michelle Stoffey said he takes his roles seriously, with integrity, dedication and commitment to his players, students and the community.
She said Babb leads by example; he adheres to the same rules he expects of his athletes. She said he expects his athletes to remain positive, so he displays a positive attitude. He wants his athletes to be able to listen, so he starts by listening to his athletes.
Stoffey said he has a genuine relationship with his students and his athletes — he has built trust and shown them he cares; he can relate to them because he has been exactly where they are; and his experience as a past student athlete at Peoria who went on to continue playing at the collegiate level motivates his players to continue playing a sport at the next level.
So it is only fitting that he would continue to be one of Peoria High School’s Hometown Heroes, Stoffey said.
“Babb has sat in the same classrooms as our students, he has walked the halls of PHS as a student himself and has played on the same field that he now coaches on. He is an influential part of our community. He embodies the Panther spirit, tradition, history and diversity of PHS. He is always wanting to help his alma mater and the community he believes in, whether it is on the field with his players or in his office connecting with students and their families,” Stoffey said.
“Coach Babb is about being honest, not sugar coating anything and making sure people know where they stand with him, and students appreciate that. He is real, and what you see is what you get. He will do whatever he can to help a student out, but he also expects those students to do their part. He challenges our students and his players to have pride in themselves and to not let any obstacles keep them from working towards their goals.”
Babb is active with his church, and along with the rest of the guidance department partners with Hart Pantry to give out food to families in the community who are in need, as well as sponsors the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Club.
Assistant Principal Cedricia Hester said he develops players and prepares them for collegiate scholarships, as well as develops younger coaches, serving as a mentor and being active in state organizations and in the West Valley.
Babb is an excellent role model and a vital member of the Peoria High team, Hester said.
“He provides wonderful support to students and their families. People do not often realize that when students are successful, it helps their families as well. When students succeed, it can change the trajectory of the family to a brighter future and his work supporting these students does just that,” she said.
Philip Haldiman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.