(As part of a series of articles with area athletic directors, sports editor Pat Dailey engaged in a Q’s and A’s session with Nixa A.D. Brandon Clark about the state of the Eagles and Lady Eagles)
Q: Let’s start with the big question, do you anticipate Nixa being bumped to Class 6 for football this fall?
A: MSHSAA will release that two weeks into the start of (practices). I was convinced last year we were going to Class 6. But we missed it by nine students and Ozark jumped ahead of us. Based on our enrollment count that we submitted, we have 89 more kids than we had last year. My gut feeling is we will be in Class 6. But I don’t know how things at other schools have shaken out. They could have had a drop or a rise. I am convinced that we are going Class 6 at some point.
We’ve been preparing and building toward that for several years in terms of our coaching staff. We added a head strength coach. We implemented a replay staff on our sideline. We added off-season programs.
Being in Class 6 won’t change who we play in the conference. But once we hit the District level, we have to make sure our kids are as prepared as possible for teams that could be very tough. My concern is there are seven or eight very strong Class 6 schools. You look at the scores from Class 6 last year in Districts and there were a lot of blowouts.
(In 2015), we faced Francis Howell (and lost 28-0), so we got a look at what Class 6 looks like before we make the jump.
Q: How do you think Nixa fared overall in all sports within the Central Ozark Conference this past school year?
A: We won conference championships in girls soccer and baseball. We were near the top in almost every sport. That shows the strength of our programs. We’re very competitive in the all-sports standings. Winning it is a goal we set every year.
We take a ton of pride in the all-sports standings. The coaches and our school board care about that a lot. The coaches are constantly asking me throughout the year if I’ve figured the points standings and where we are on it.
Q: Were there any programs in particular that caught your attention?
A: Look at what softball did (a District runner-up finish). They got off to a hot start and were 7-0. They had a little bit of a lull in which they traveled to tough tournaments. But they finished out strong and had a nice run in Districts. That’s a program that I’ve watched grow and continually get better.
Volleyball is a program that sometimes sneaks up on you. They have a quiet confidence. I don’t know how many 20-win seasons coach (Annie) Zimmerman has had.
Baseball was a surprise to me. They always seemed to squeak the close games out. It wasn’t the District finish we wanted. But they had a really good year.
The track program and what coach (Lance) Brumley does doesn’t get enough recognition. We had track athletes competing at the highest level within our conference and at State.
Q: How important is football at Nixa?
A: Football is a major focus. We put a lot of attention onto it and make sure we’re never getting behind the curve. We pay attention to what other schools are doing. We’re making sure we are staffed appropriately and modifying to what the style of the game is. We’d love to see all of that produce a few more twins. As always, though, our wins and losses are dictated by the level of the strength of our conference.
Q: Looking at the junior high level, are there programs that can look forward to exceptional groups working their way up the ranks in future years?
A: Basketball is one sport I’m excited about. You look at what is coming up for both the boys and girls programs and there is some strong, young talent. I’m excited to see how that is developed.
Q: Have there been any additions or changes to Nixa athletics that have you especially optimistic?
A: Our school district is very progressive. We’re not behind the curve in anything. We try to be at the forefront of innovations. Adding a head strength coach in John Gold has been phenomenal. We stole him away form Willard two years ago. He has a phenomenal personality and is very passionate about what he is doing.
We’re more or less building a small college program by the way he trains our kids. We have kids making huge strides in the weight room at the high school and the junior high. That is his sport. All our programs come under one umbrella. They’re unified under one program. For each sport, there is sport-specified training. He’s also helping prevent injuries and pushing (ideas) on the nutrition side.
Volleyball is a great example of what he’s meant. He had girls doing leg lifts and squats. And was telling them how much volleyball girls at Willard were lifting when he was there. It blew their minds. They started setting that as their bench mark.
We have so many single-sport kids. They play that sport year-round. They’ve got to have some other kind of training to keep them strong and healthy and not wear out their tendons and ligaments.
One of the main reasons why we started looking at (a head strength coach) is not every kid has parents who can afford to pay $200-$500 a month on training and private lessons. By mid-year, we were seeing the results of their level of intensity and training. Also, we’ve had parents who are paying several hundred dollars of month for training call us and compliment coach Gold for his knowledge and how he’s educating the kids. That’s tax dollars being spent for something parents no longer have to pay for (outside of school).
Q: When do you anticipate construction work getting under way toward the expansion of seating at Eagles Stadium?
A: We’re still in the design phase and nailing down details. As the (football and boys soccer) seasons end in the fall, that’s when construction will start. If the timeline remains fluid, things will be completed by the summer.
Q: What do you think the addition of indoor baseball and softball facility will mean for those programs?
A: That was a big deal and a great addition. We have a great group of motivated parents who did a lot of fundraising to help build it. It’s something that guarantees the kids year-round access to work on their skills. We’re not as weather-dependent as we used to be. When we get a lot of rain, we can go inside and work on hitting.
I’m sure it will have a positive effect for many years to come.
Q: What was your response to the community in April voting in favor of a $15 million bond issue and a 41-cent property tax levy increase (a portion of the funds will go toward a renovation of Eagle Stadium)?
A: It was a calculated risk (placing both issues on the same ballot), ambitious might be the best way to describe it. Right or wrong, the school the district is hub of the city. It is the largest employer in the city. I never want to work for a place that is not progressively pushing forward. The Nixa community supports that. We’re very proud of the community for passing all the bond issues. It speaks to how much our community believes in academics and the opportunities for extracurricular activities.