Shane Hilstrom made the difficult decision to step away from coaching baseball to grow his home inspection business in 2015.
But now having spent five years away from the game, he’s once again got the itch. So when the opportunity to not only coach at the high school level but also build a program still in its infant stages arose, Hilstrom couldn’t pass it up.
On Wednesday, May 20, Hilstrom was named the new head baseball coach at Eastmark High School in Mesa. Part of the Queen Creek Unified School District, next spring will mark the program’s first full season competing at the varsity level as this year was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I don’t know if it was one thing,” Hilstrom said of his decision to apply at Eastmark. “A couple years ago I started looking into getting back into it. When I found out Eastmark was open I was like, ‘I’m going to apply for that.’ Then I found out they already had a coach.
“It came back open again and I decided to throw my name in the hat.”
Hilstrom takes over the Eastmark program for former coach Jeff Singer, who was hired at Campo Verde High School in Gilbert following the shortened season due to the pandemic.
He has the opportunity to essentially build the Firebirds’ program from
the ground up, something he has done in the past.
“I’ve been in a situation like that before where I’ve been at a new school,” Hilstrom said. “I just thought, ‘heck, this is a good opportunity.’ At least in my situation, sometimes you do things when they feel right. This one just felt like a good fit if I were to get it.”
Hilstrom grew up in the Valley and graduated from Tempe High School in 1986. Following his own prep baseball career, he went on to play for South Mountain Community College and Eastern Oregon before returning home to attend Arizona State University. In 1991, he returned to Tempe as a coach of the junior varsity baseball team.
He remained on staff during the Buffalos’ run to a state title win in 1992 under then-head coach and current Tempe Union High School Athletic Director Bruce Kipper.
Hilstrom was then hired on as an assistant at McClintock before joining the staff at Scottsdale Community College. A return to McClintock followed by a short stint at Chandler-Gilbert Community College led him to be hired on as the head baseball coach at Higley in 2006, a year after the school opened.
He left Higley in 2008 to build the varsity program at Perry. In seven varsity seasons with the Pumas he led them to a 112-88 overall record and a trip to the 5A state title game in 2011.
In 2015, he stepped down to pursue
“I enjoy it,” Hilstrom said of his business. “The one thing about that, it’s kind of a young man’s game. It’s pretty physically demanding. I tore my knee up the first four or five months of doing that and I had knee surgery.
“You kind of start thinking, ‘hey, at 50 is this really a long-term deal.?’”
Hilstrom hopes to instill a philosophy of hard work and determination at Eastmark. It’s the same philosophy he has carried with him at every coaching destination.
Despite being the Firebirds’ second coach, he still feels as if the program is starting from scratch in many ways. On Monday, June 1, he opened summer camp for small groups of players to abide by social distancing guidelines set forth by the Queen Creek Unified School District and health experts across the state and country.
While using the summer camps to get to know his players and get back into the groove of coaching, he told parents during an online Zoom meeting he aims to run each session as he would a regular-season practice.
He believes that will allow players to buy-in to the hard-working culture he aims to establish in short order.
“It might sound cliché, but I just want my kids to work hard every single day,” Hilstrom said. “Giving your best effort everyday has always kind of been my motto.
“I don’t get caught up in wins and losses. I don’t think that’s much different than any other coaches and there’s so many good ones in Arizona.”
Hilstrom expressed his excitement to get rolling at Eastmark after a five-year hiatus.
“I can’t wait to get out there,” Hilstrom said. “You stay away for a while you get totally reenergized. I’m ready to go.”