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Changing the culture: New Chico athletic director starting fresh

By Reece Waddell | Published Saturday, June 23, 2018
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Shaking Things Up

SHAKING THINGS UP – Then-defensive coordinator Clay Sanders coaches during a bi-district playoff game last November. Sanders was hired as athletic director and head coach in March. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

New athletic director and head football coach Clay Sanders has already started changing the culture in Chico.

One of his main points of emphasis has been morning and summer workouts – something Sanders said was a struggle when he arrived in 2017. Last summer, Sanders drove around and picked a few kids up in his truck, but only a dozen participated in the sessions.

A day after he was hired on March 6, Sanders began holding 6:30 a.m. workouts and had 98-99 percent attendance.

“I was told you’ll never get them up here,” Sanders said. “I think the misnomer most people don’t understand is football, basketball and baseball games aren’t really won on game night. They’re won in the offseason, when you put that work in the weight room when others aren’t doing it. I knew we weren’t prepared for that coming into football season [last year]. It was very frustrating and challenging.”

Despite getting into the playoffs for the second straight year, the Dragons went 3-8 overall in 2017 and won just one game in District 5-2A. Chico lost to long-time rival Alvord 15-14 in the regular season finale.

Two months later, former athletic director and head football coach Lane Wilson was put on administrative leave. He and Chico ISD eventually reached terms on a separation agreement in late February.

Wilson is now the offensive coordinator at Paradise.

All Out Effort

ALL-OUT EFFORT – Chico’s Jerod Blanks reaches out to tackle a Valley View runner during a playoff game last year. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

COACHING CHANGES:

Since taking the job in early March, Sanders has completely overhauled the coaching staff.

“The first thing I wanted to change was the culture,” Sanders said. “And I don’t think it’s so much changing culture as creating culture. I felt the best way to do that was to clean house. Change everything from the way we tie our shoes to [how we] drink out of the water fountain and how we lift weights and our running form. Top to bottom I felt we needed to create a new culture in Chico.”

Sanders hired Ciandra Seabourn to replace former volleyball coach Jody Carter. Chad Stone was hired as the boys basketball coach, replacing Mark Kyle. His wife, Kim, was hired as the girls basketball coach.

Riley Good, who had a brief stint in the Los Angeles Angels’ minor league system, was hired as Chico’s new baseball coach. He replaced Brian McBeth.

Sanders was the softball coach last year, but he hired Aledo alumn K.K. Pittman to take over that program. Pittman was a member of Aledo’s 2008 state championship team.

Matt Sawyer will be the defensive coordinator and powerlifting coach next year. Andrew Harvey will be the head track coach and an assistant in football. Sanders said he will be calling the plays on offense.

“I went out and found the coaching staff that I truly believe is the best coaching staff in Wise County, if not the region,” Sanders said. “[They] believe in the same things [I] do. They all come from a high-end pedigree. They know how to win and they’re here for the right reasons. We aren’t here to collect rings and trophies for us. We’re here to pull out the greatness of those kids in Chico. We believe in the Chico community and the kids in Chico.”

BEST TEAM: BASEBALL

Chico started the year 9-1, rallying in nearly every win. The Dragons got off to a 4-1 start in District 10-2A and finished in fourth place at 16-11 overall.

Chico forced a decisive Game 3 in the 2A Region II bi-district round against Archer City but lost a late lead to lose 5-4. Senior Jerod Blanks was named Pitcher of the Year in 10-2A, going 6-1 with a 3.00 ERA.

He struck out 15 in a win against Alvord.

“I was very impressed with the baseball team,” Sanders said. “It was a tumultuous spring. Those kids had no control over what was going on. There were a lot of changes and things happening. A lot of things hard for anybody, much less teenagers to deal with. They still went out and were one game away from beating Archer City – and Archer City went three rounds deep. They were right there on the cusp. They fought and battled all the way to the end of the season.”

BEST SURPRISE: BASKETBALL

The Dragons upset second-place Poolville late in the season to finish league play 5-5 and secure a berth in the playoffs. Chico won two of its last three games entering the postseason.

They faced District 12-2A champion Sam Rayburn in the bi-district round, falling 58-40. The Rebels advanced to the regional quarterfinal before bowing out to state-qualifier Muenster.

Blanks was a first-team selection from 11-2A. He led Chico in scoring, averaging 15.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. He shot 80 percent at the free throw line.

Willie Payne earned second-team honors, averaging 5.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per night.

“They challenged [Sam Rayburn] and competed,” Sanders said. “Coach Mark Kyle did a phenomenal job with them. The kids responded and competed. They did a great job getting into the playoffs.”

CHICO AT A GLANCE

Sport … ’16-17 record … ’17-18 record … Postseason

Football … 2-9 … 3-7 … Bi-district

Volleyball … 28-8 … 25-7 … Bi-district

Boys basketball … 8-13 … 7-16 … Bi-district

Girls basketball … Missed playoffs

Baseball … 8-13-1 … 16-11 … Bi-district

Softball … 14-11 … Missed playoffs

Track … Boys 4th, Girls 5th in District 11-2A

COACHING CHANGES

Sport … Previous Coach … New Coach

Football … Lane Wilson … Clay Sanders

Volleyball … Jody Carter … Ciandra Seabourn

Boys basketball … Mark Kyle … Chad Stone

Girls basketball … Jody Carter … Kim Stone

Baseball … Brian McBeth … Riley Good

Softball … Clay Sanders … K.K. Pittman

Track … Andrew Harvey

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