Editor's note: With the school year ending Friday, this two-part mini-series gathers the thoughts of athletic directors Joe Gillespie at Stephenville and Keith Wood at Hico regarding their programs dropping to Class 3A and 1A, respectively, when the new year begins in August. Wood is up first, with Gillespie to follow on Sunday.
When it was revealed Hico would fall from Class 2A to 1A under the latest UIL realignment, athletic director head coach Keith Wood surely breathed a big sigh of relief.
But that sigh had nothing to do with his football team being moved away from traditional 2A state powers Cisco and Crawford. In fact, it had nothing to do with football - or any particular sport - at all.
"I was just glad to see our kids get to compete against schools our size, where we take the field or the court on equal footing with our opponent," Wood said. "There were times in 2A we were facing schools with a lot more kids than us, and that makes it difficult."
Hico still managed to have its share of success in 2A, especially lately. The girls basketball program came within a game of the state tournament in 2011, the football team was a 2A playoff regular and the baseball team reached the post season this spring. Hico even had one boy and one girl place at the recent state track and field meet.
The tradition of 2A success has had Hico residents chomping at the bit since realignment day, says Wood.
"Some of the town folk are thinking we are going to rock and roll because we're Class A, but the ones of us who have been on the field against those guys, we don't look at it any differently," he said.
That's because the Tigers' new Class A football district has a glaring resemblance of the old District 8-2A.
"We used to be in with Goldthwaite, San Saba and De Leon in 2A," he pointed out. "They just added Santo and called us Class A."
The only thing missing is Dublin - and perhaps a Cisco or Eastland on the side - in place of Santo and the league would be the old 8-2A.
"It's not that different. We've been preaching to the kids not to expect anything to be given to them just because they are 1A," he said. "In fact, it could get even more difficult from the standpoint that teams will be gunning to knock off one of the biggest schools (in 1A)."
Wood is guarding against the possibility of any 1A complacency, filling his club's pre-district schedule - six games instead of 3-5 as in years past - with 2A and 3A clubs.
Hico will face Dublin, Rio Vista, Hamilton, Palmer, Hillsboro and Italy before opening District 5-A Division I. The Tigers defeated Dublin, Rio Vista and Hillsboro but lost to Hamilton last year. Hico has scheduled Palmer before, making Italy most fresh of the non-district foes.
"We ran into Italy in bi-district one year, but that's it," Wood said. "Other than them and Santo we really know everyone on our schedule pretty well."
School lets out Friday in Hico, and Wood is confident his football players will enter the summer having received his message loud and clear.
"They know, we've told them," he said. "They know these guys we'll be playing are just as competitive as the guys we were playing the last few years. We may be in a 1A district, but that's because we're 1A, too. We don't feel like we have any advantage there."
It's the same in Hico's other sports, Wood says.
"We were looking at track times, and for the most part the girls in our Class A region had better times than we saw at the 2A regional we were at," he said. "In girls basketball, you have Goldthwaite and San Saba. De Leon has good girls sports, too."
Goldthwaite was ranked No. 1 in Class A girls basketball for a large part of last season, and it was San Saba that beat out Hico for a state tournament berth in 2011.
Scheduling has been the primary concern for Wood and staff.
"Not so much from a football standpoint, but it's really tough on some of our other sports," he said. "Our baseball team is in a four-team district, so we're having to work harder to find games to fill the schedule for the kids."
Finding sub-varsity and junior high games for all teams could even become a weekly battle, he said.
"We have to watch for other 1A teams and any schools in our area that have openings," he said. "We want all our teams and all our kids to get to play a full schedule."
Football and volleyball begin preseason practices Aug. 6, and though there's voluntary summer workouts before that date, that is when Wood will have all his Tigers officially back together.
"When we come back, we'll be there. We'll be 1A," Wood said. "To be honest, I don't feel any different about it, and I don't think any of our players or coaches do either. We're going to come back and work as hard as we know how, no matter how many As they give us."
Follow Brad Keith on Twitter @etsports, and don't forget to catch the second part of this mini-series on Sunday.