STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
MARBLE FALLS — Stability and player development are two things Marble Falls Independent School District athletic director Rick Hoover believes are keys to athletic success.
Hoover painted his outlook of MFISD athletics during a recent Marble Falls Athletic Booster Club meeting. It will require work as well as buy in from coaches, student-athletes, parents, and the community. Hoover added that it’s also time to quit looking for excuses.
As for the MFISD athletic program, Hoover said there are no quick fixes to instantly turn teams into champions overnight.
“There is no master puzzle, no (master) remedy, no (master) solution,” said the new athletic director. “We have to do things right, as simple as that sounds. We have to treat kids right.”
Hoover noted, however, there are steps to be taken to get the athletics program on course.
Program stability — at the athletic director level down to the coaching staff — is one of Hoover’s top concerns.
He reminded the audience that, in five years, Marble Falls has had four athletic directors: Todd Dodge, Matt Green, interim Mike Birdwell, and himself.
“We can’t have a different coach every year,” Hoover said. “Until we are stable, it’s going to be hard for us.”
Though Hoover is the athletic director, he’s the first to point out leading, running, and building an athletic program is a team effort. Working alongside him are Birdwell, who is the boys athletic coordinator, and John Berkman, the girls athletic coordinator. Then, there’s the cadre of MFISD coaches.
“The buck stops with me, but we’ve established a hierarchy,” he said.
Hoover isn’t trying to create a situation where coaches have to run to him with each question or decision. They can also go to the athletic coordinators or handle issues themselves.
“Ultimately, we want our coaches to be empowered to run their programs and handle all their athletes and day-to-day management of their programs,” Hoover said. “We want to be their support. We don’t want to have to tell them how to run their programs.”
Along with creating stability within the MFISD athletics program, Hoover also believes he and the coaching staff must build athletes and create opportunities for them to be successful at the varsity level.
That, he pointed out, doesn’t start when a student-athlete enters high school. It starts in middle school.
Hoover believes the athletics department must concentrate on helping Marble Falls Middle School student-athletes strengthen their bodies and their understanding of their chosen sports. He said it’s vital they learn the fundamentals and proper techniques long before they enter the high school.
That means helping coaches at the middle school learn how to properly coach and teach those elements, he added.
“It’s not personal,” he said. “I hope every coach jumps on board.”
Part of that begins with setting up a weightlifting and conditioning program at the middle school. Middle school coaches will have students focus on the basics and core lifts such as the squat, the dead lift, and the bench press.
A middle school strength and conditioning program means those students will hit high school as faster and stronger athletes.
Getting middle school students involved in athletics then creating a system that encourages them to stay is another part of Hoover’s plan at the middle school. Winning at the varsity level serves as a great inducement for kids to stick around, but Hoover added that if they see progress at all levels, they’re also more likely to continue with athletics.
Sometimes, though, building a program is about simply establishing relationships. It’s something Hoover did when he first moved to Marble Falls after taking the head boys soccer coach position.
In his early days as the Mustangs coach, Hoover began making the rounds at The Greens youth soccer complex on Avenue K to watch the young soccer athletes play and practice. He met parents and grandparents as well as the children. It was as much about building a rapport with them. The coach believes making the time to meet people where they are is a big key to the success of his high school program.
“For fourth- and fifth-graders, when they know a coach’s name, it matters,” Hoover said. “We want kids to bleed Mustang purple, to say ‘I can’t wait until I’m a Mustang.’ It doesn’t happen by them watching us (coaches); they want us to come watch them.”
Success and winning for the Marble Falls athletics program aren’t far away or out of reach. Hoover pointed out that the boys varsity basketball team has as many district wins this season as it did all of last year with eight games remaining. The girls varsity basketball team sits atop the District 26-5A standings with an 8-0 district record. Last year, the Lady Mustangs advanced to the Class 5A Region IV semifinal game before the 2016-17 season came to an end.
This year, the girls track-and-field team is expected to be “crazy dominant.”
Hoover isn’t pulling things out of thin air regarding program success. He has experience with successful athletics programs, both before coming to Marble Falls and here at Marble Falls.
He was part of the Frisco Wakeland soccer staff that won the boys Class 4A state championship in 2010.
Under Hoover, the Marble Falls High School boys soccer team has become a formidable force on the pitch. In 2014, the squad won bi-district and area titles, advancing to the quarterfinals before getting knocked out by Leander Rouse in double overtime. Last year, the Mustangs returned to the playoffs, advancing to the area round before Richmond Foster beat them.
It will take work by coaches and student-athletes to build a successful program.
Hoover also emphasized the need to focus on what Marble Falls coaches and student-athletes can control such as preparation, practices, and a commitment to getting better. Very few people can predict University of Interscholastic League realignment, and there’s no use in concentrating on enrollment figures and the larger rosters of opponents, he added. Also, fans shouldn’t spend time thinking about players who have moved out of the district, he said.
“The excuses have to go,” he said. “It’s not changing.”
What Hoover does believe is the future is strong for Marble Falls athletics.