Written by Corbett Smith
Growing pains: As Frisco ISD expands, so do challenges for athletic programs
FRISCO - When Frisco Wakeland opened in 2006, Frisco football coach Vance Gibson lost 55 players from his program. That year, as a Class 4A school, Frisco had seven players who regularly played both offense and defense. In 2005, it didn't have any.
Such situations have become the reality in Frisco ISD athletics over the last decade.
From 1987 to 2007, Frisco had the fastest-growing district in the nation. Enrollment increased 1,799 percent.
And that growth has presented special challenges for the district's athletic department.
FISD has jumped from 1,200 students to 37,000 over the last two decades. In the last eight years, the district opened five new high schools: Centennial in 2003, Wakeland and Liberty in 2006, Heritage in 2009 and Lone Star in 2010.
Such quick expansion hasn't happened without growing pains, including to the district's athletic programs.
For example, Frisco High's programs took two hits in short succession. First, it lost half its freshmen and sophomores when Centennial opened in 2003. Then, when Wakeland opened in 2006, Frisco kept all its incoming seniors but lost all other students living west of the Dallas North Tollway and north of Main Street.
Combined with a demographic blip that caused fewer students to move through Frisco High's feeder middle schools, the losses have taken a toll on the football team. Frisco had back-to-back 0-7 district campaigns after making the playoffs in 2007. This year, at 3-4 in district, it just missed a playoff spot. Three Frisco schools - Liberty, Wakeland and Centennial - made the playoffs out of District 9-4A.
"High school football is a numbers game," Gibson said. "Anytime you go through something of that kind, there's going to be an impact."
But such change is inevitable in Frisco, coaches said.
"You just know, living in Frisco, that's the way it's going to be," Wakeland football coach Marty Secord said. "That's the vision. You buy into it, and it's really not a bad thing."
Secord and Gibson talked about how the district has counteracted such difficulties with unwavering support, both financially and administratively.
Equity, FISD athletic director David Kuykendall said, has been the watchword in the district.
"Equity in budgets, equity in facilities, equity in number of coaches," Kuykendall said. "Everything that we can make equitable, we make equitable."
In the early 1990s, FISD officials saw the growth coming and knew they had to plan for massive school expansion.
They decided against the mega-school model of neighboring Plano. Instead, they chose to build high schools of 1,500 to 1,800 students each.
"Our philosophy was predicated upon the fact that if your high schools are small enough, a high percentage of kids can be involved in some club, a sport, organization, activity - that they can be connected," superintendent Rick Reedy said.
Kuykendall estimates that a third of Frisco's 8,500 high school students participate in athletics.
"From that perspective, I think it's really good," Lone Star football coach Phil Fuller said. "You just multiply the number of schools in Frisco and varsity teams - and you see how many kids are playing varsity - you have a ton of kids that are competing at the highest level in high school."
Even with all the expansion, FISD had a banner year for 2009-10, with regional qualifiers in nearly every sport.
One school, however, shone above the rest.
Wakeland, in its fourth year, was tremendously successful. It finished fourth, one spot ahead of Highland Park, for the University Interscholastic League's Lone Star Cup in Class 4A, a competition based on schools' performances in athletic and academic events.
The boys soccer team won the 4A state title, the girls basketball team was the 4A runner-up, the boys baseball team made the state semifinals, and the boys swimming, girls golf and softball teams had deep playoff runs.
"Why does there have to be a difference between a player in Frisco and a player in Southlake or one in Highland Park?" Secord asked. "There's not. There's a heart and soul in there, and we are going to coach them and try to make them better."
Wakeland's attendance zone comprises the southwestern edge of the district, including the affluent Trails neighborhood.
"The strip of the people that they pull from ... they seem to have a perfect blend of demography," Kuykendall said. However, he insists that such successes are cyclical.
"We can't point to a demographic region where there is a set of apartments or a set of something that assures anyone of victory," Kuykendall said. "Some towns, some places, you might be able to say that. What I hope we can do is to be known as a competitive district in every sport that we compete in."
New start at Lone Star
Adjacent to farmland in the far northwest part of the district, Lone Star is Frisco's newest and smallest high school, competing in 3A with a student body less than half the size of those at Liberty, Centennial or Wakeland.
With a portion of last year's freshman and sophomore classes from Wakeland, Lone Star is playing full varsity schedules with three grades - and taking its lumps while doing so.
Up against 3A powers Lovejoy and Prosper, Lone Star's football team finished 0-10. Lone Star's volleyball team finished at the bottom of the district as well.
But Lone Star's teams epitomize the philosophy that Reedy and Kuykendall espouse, composed of JV and freshman team players from Wakeland who might not have seen the field on varsity.
"We're given a lot more opportunity, playing time, one-on-one with the coaches," junior wide receiver Andrew Carlquist said.
One day, if Kuykendall's dream comes to fruition, Lone Star will battle for the district crown alongside Liberty and Wakeland in an all-Frisco ISD district.
Fuller relishes the challenge.
"This is not PE," he said. "This is competitive athletics. I don't want people to think that just because we have a different mindset about what we're doing in Frisco, that we are not competitive. We want to do well; we want to win. We want the same thing everybody else wants."
FRISCO'S HIGH SCHOOLS
Most recent successes: Girls swimming team 4A state runners-up in 2010; district champs in girls basketball over the last two seasons; district runners-up in boys basketball in 2010
2010 football record: 4-6 (3-4, District 9-4A)
Playoff appearances over last decade: 37
Playoff appearances since 2007-08: 13
Opened: 2003 (2004 first varsity seasons)
Most recent successes: District champs in volleyball in 2009, making the regional semifinals in 4A; regional quarterfinalists in boys soccer in 2010; boys cross country qualified for regional meet in 2009
2010 football record: 6-4(5-2, District 9-4A)
Playoff appearances over last decade: 14
Playoff appearances since 2007-08: 10
Most recent successes: 4A state champs in boys soccer in 2010; state runners-up in girls basketball last year; state semifinalists in baseball in 2010; regional finalist in softball last season.
2010 football record: 8-2 (6-1,District 9-4A)
Playoff appearances over last decade: 20
Playoff appearances since 2007-08: 18
Opened: 2006 (2007 first varsity seasons)
Most recent successes: Won first district title in footballthis season; boys cross country finished third at state in 2009; advanced to the regional semifinals in football in 2009; back-to-back playoff appearances for girls soccer in 2009 and 2010.
2010 football record: 10-0(7-0, District 9-4A)
Playoff appearances over last decade: 7
Playoff appearances since 2007-08: 7
Opened: 2009 (2010 first varsity seasons)
Most recent successes: Heritage is in its first season of varsity team athletics, having played JV in team sports last season; fourth place in district in boys cross country in 2010; fifth in district for this season's volleyball team, finishing with a 17-25 record.
2010 football record: 0-10(0-7, District 9-4A)
Playoff appearances over last decade: none
Playoff appearances since 2007-08: N/A
Most recent successes: Lone Star is in its first season of varsity athletics; both boys and girls cross country teams finished fourth in the district meet on Oct. 27.
2010 football record: 0-10(0-5 District 11-3A)
Playoff appearances over last decade: none
Playoff appearances since 2007-08: N/A
Enrollment numbers are from recent UIL realignment; playoff appearances are in eight team sports (football, volleyball, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, softball and baseball)
Frisco high schools, listing year opened and enrollment data (from 2010-12 UIL football realignment statistics):
School Opened Students Cl. Frisco 1902 1,443 4A Centennial 2003 1,620 4A Wakeland 2006 1,714 4A Liberty 2006 1,641 4A Heritage 2009 1,386 4A Lone Star 2010 720 3A Total enrollment 8,542