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Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

Hixson named Headliner of the Year

Saturday, December 29, 2012

(Photo)
Blytheville athletic director David Hixson (right) talks with first-year BHS boys basketball coach Jeff Flanigan Friday night during the Wynne Holiday Classic.
2012 saw sports news crossover to front page news as much as ever, mostly for negative reasons.

From the Penn St./Jerry Sandusky saga to the take down of American icon Lance Armstrong and more recently, the murder-suicide of Kansas City Chief player Jevon Belcher and girlfriend Kasandra Perkins and the drunk driving accident involving Dallas Cowboy player, Josh Brent, that killed his friend and teammate, Jerry Brown Jr.

Locally, however, the world of sports crossed over to the front page in a positive way.

In early April, longtime Blytheville head coach and current athletic director David Hixson announced his resignation as basketball coach after 28 seasons. His departure from the hardwood became the first of many coaching spots to be filled in Mississippi County this year. Hixson, however, soon found himself not only trying to fill his position but two others. Within a month, as his search for a basketball coach heated up, head baseball coach Bret Kirk stepped down after two seasons, followed weeks later with the abrupt departure of head football coach Maruice Moody after two seasons as well.

"I told people that I think I developed a callus on my ear from talking to perspective candidates and to you guys on the phone so much," said Hixson, who was named the Courier News Headliner of the Year for 2012. "I was just trying to make the right hires."

Making the right hires is one thing, but making three "right hires" in three of the biggest high school sports at the same time seemed like almost an impossible task even for someone with the experience and connections as Hixson.

"I talked to a lot of other ADs (athletic directors) and none of them could recall a time where they had to fill as many big positions in such a short period of time," he said. "We were definitely heading into uncharted territory."

Hixson filled the basketball position with Ashdown's Jeff Flanigan. Flanigan has a reputation not only as an "X's and O's" coach with college experience but as a great motivator and educator. For the football position, Hixson turned to former Blytheville assistant Vince McCrosky, who had been coaching in high school football in Missouri. And in a bold attempt to turn around a struggling baseball program, Hixson called on longtime baseball coach Randy Smith from Senath-Hornersville, Mo.

Hixson said that it wasn't a matter of interest in the jobs, but the timing of the job openings that was the hardest part.

"Timing is everything," he said. "The interest in job openings in Blytheville are overwhelming. People were coming to us as opposed to trying to find them. I think that is a testament to the school district and the kind of schools that we have here in Blytheville."

The timing of hiring a football coach in early June caused that opening to be one of the trickiest to fill.

"Most guys we looked at already had signed contracts with their districts for the upcoming season. May is not the time to be looking for a head football coach. At that point, not only do you have to find someone but you have to find someone who is able to get out of a contract. That's not an easy thing to do. Fortunately, we were able to get Vince (McCrosky). He's the right guy for us."

Hixson found the baseball and basketball openings to be a little easier to fill but still challenging.

"Randy (Smith) was the guy I was really interested in," he said. "It was just a matter of making things work and we were able to. We're very fortunate to have a guy with his experience here."

As for basketball, Hixson's former job, he said that essentially filling his old job really wasn't as difficult personally as some would think.

"I had been thinking about stepping down for a while and just trying to find the right time," he said. "Once the time was right, I was ready and prepared to move on. It really turned out to be fairly easy. With all of the connections I have in basketball, I felt confident that we would bring in a quality coach. I think we did a good job."

Once the new hires were in place, it didn't take long for them make their mark on the Blytheville community.

McCrosky immediately went to work rebuilding a football team. On his first day, he had just six kids in the weight room. By opening night, he had close to 50 and had begun forging a relationship with community leaders along the way. It was apparent that McCrosky's goals were not just on the football field. He started a "peanut butter locker" for his players. Whenever his players are hungry, they can come into the field house and grab a sandwich. He's received plenty of donations from around the community to keep the locker stocked. He's also opened up the field house to make it a place where the players want to be if they have no where else to go.

Flanigan began reaching out to the community immediately as well. The community support helped him put together a preseason "boot camp." Flanigan had as many as 50 potential basketball players show up at 5 a.m. every morning for six weeks in the Fall for intense conditioning workouts to prepare for the season. As a pastor, recording artist, doctoral student, husband and father, he is trying to set an example for his players and students as to how to conduct a life with purpose.

Smith has reached almost legendary status in the Missouri Bootheel and northeast Arkansas for his coaching abilities on the diamond.

He's built a program at little Senath-Hornersville and has had a successful run with an American Legion team out of Paragould. Hixson said that there seems to be a renewed interest in the baseball program that hasn't been in Blytheville in some time.

In the three hirings, Hixson not only found quality coaches on the field but found people willing to go the extra mile in making a positive impact on the local community as well.

As for Hixson, since leaving the coaching profession, his focus has remained the same.

"First and foremost with me, it's always been about the kids," he said. "I think I've been in this business long enough to have a pretty good idea about what our kids need and, for me, it was important to find not only good coaches, but people who could meet the needs of our children."

He still has goals of creating a mentoring program between the high school athletes and the middle school and younger athletes.

"The younger kids, that's where I'm trying to reach," he said. "That's the key. If we can instill an interest in athletics in those kids at a young age, get them before they get into something they don't need to be doing. I think athletics can be that hook to keep them from going the wrong direction. Our community-based activities have improved from the baseball program at the Sportsplex to Missco Football to Healing in the Hood. It's tremendous what those things are doing for our young kids."

afitzpatrick@couriernews.net

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