From Pee Wee to Major League

From the time, not so may years ago, when Frisco was just a little one-high-school town, sports have taken center stage in the lives of locals, especially young athletes. When driving through Frisco, one quickly concludes sports are a significant part of what our community has become known for.

Having been recently named “Sports City U.S.A.” by Visit Frisco, Frisco continues to live up to its title and reputation as it becomes home to professional sports teams and facilities. School district teams continue to excel and young athletes are continually provided opportunities through local organized sports. In Men’s Journal magazine, Frisco was even named the “Best Place to Raise an Athlete!” From the requirements to coach local youth to the innovative facilities honing kids’ skill sets, there are countless reasons for athletes to make Frisco home.

Mar 6, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; FC Dallas forward Maximiliano Urruti (37) celebrates his second half goal with forward Mauro Diaz (10) against the Philadelphia Union at Toyota Stadium. FC Dallas beat Philadelphia Union 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

VIPs and State-of-the-Art Facilities

While our population is booming, there are not many children across the country who can proudly say they have practiced or played on the fields or courts of multiple professional sports teams. Frisco is now home to the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys at The Ford Center at The Star, Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas at Toyota Stadium, the Frisco RoughRiders, Major League Baseball’s AA affiliate, at Dr Pepper Ballpark, the National Hockey League’s Dallas Stars at the Dr Pepper Stars Center, the Texas Legends, the National Basketball League’s G League affiliate, at Dr Pepper Arena, Major League Lacrosse’s Dallas Rattlers at The Ford Center at The Star and the Champions Indoor Football League’s Texas Revolution at Dr Pepper Arena. Having professional sports teams in our backyard serves as the ultimate motivation for young athletes with larger-than-life dreams. 

Frisco is making changes to accommodate growth, provide athletes with quality facilities and attract large sporting events. Marla Roe, Visit Frisco executive director, says, “Our parks and recreation department is focused on developing large community parks with new playing fields. Their new model is to have a larger number of one type of field at one location, which makes it easier for families when they have multiple children playing the same sport, but also helps us sell facilities to new tournaments and events, which drives economic impact into our city. We also see kids benefit from having access to, not only our local professional sports teams and going to those games, but also the large events we host in the city such as the NCAA Division I FCS Football Championship, the Frisco Bowl, Conference USA and more.” Young athletes can also look forward to the World Olympics Gymnastics Academy Classic each spring and the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships each summer. 

Josh Dill, Visit Frisco director of sports and events, adds that Frisco’s culture and offerings provide the perfect environment for kids to maximize their potential as athletes. “The city has been committed to sports for many years through our economic development strategy and master planning,” he explains. 

The city has done an amazing job allowing young athletes to thrive, as it has remained committed to making Frisco a premier place to raise an athlete. Ms. Roe says, “Through the years, increasing the number of fields so more youth in Frisco have access to play has been a huge benefit for our young athletes. Additionally, the public and private partnerships the city has invested in have benefited young athletes in several ways, including giving access to world-class facilities. The structure of the partnerships the City and FISD have with private entities such as FC Dallas and the Dallas Cowboys also allow school administrators and athletic department personnel to focus more on the athletes and less on facility maintenance and management.” Mr. Dill says, “The city continues to invest in top-notch facilities and recruit companies that will provide cutting-edge research and services to athletes of all ages and skill levels. Baylor Scott & White Sports Therapy & Research at The Star and Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children are both great examples of this. The passion for sports in our city is infectious!” he says.

Frisco has very much earned its stellar reputation, thanks to the tireless work of leaders throughout the years who had a vision to provide a premium quality of life for residents, businesses and visitors. “Sports City U.S.A. was born from the fact that Frisco was the only city in the U.S. to be home to one team from each of the five major professional sports leagues, but it grew far beyond that. Add in the availability of training facilities, hospitals with a focus on athletics, not just from an injury perspective, but staying ahead of injuries through proper training — all of this combined allows for youth to learn sports the right way,” Ms. Roe explains. “Sports City U.S.A. is a lifestyle and a culture the entire city embraces and we think that is a very positive thing,” Mr. Dill adds. 

Happy Campers

In addition to the plethora of professional sports teams, Frisco is home to specialized facilities that help develop young athletes. The Ford Center at The Star offers Dallas Cowboys Football Academy Youth Summer Football Camps throughout the summer, as well as the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Dance Academy Summer Camps. The Cowboys even open indoor practices to the public so fans can see professionals work out. High school athletes in FISD play football at The Ford Center in the fall, and FISD soccer teams play there in the winter and spring. Lacrosse athletes can attend camps at The Ford Center with the Dallas Rattlers. FC Dallas and Toyota Stadium host various soccer camps for all ages and have a youth league for those looking to pursue a soccer career. 

FieldhouseUSA is one of Frisco’s premier indoor sports facilities. CEO Gary Oliver explains, “FieldhouseUSA is a league, event and tournament-based indoor sports facility that serves area residents by offering year-round league play in team sports such as basketball, soccer, volleyball, flag football and futsal. FieldhouseUSA offers programs for individuals such as performance training, all-sports camps, baseball and softball, birthday parties, boot camps, cheerleading, club volleyball, corporate events, dodgeball, lock-ins, skills training, taekwondo and tumble. FieldhouseUSA hosts a wide range of events and tournaments, which cater to select, club and recreational teams across the U.S.” 

Mr. Oliver and his business partner, Terry, chose to bring FieldhouseUSA to Frisco in 2006, and the facility has served more than 10 million visitors and created more than $170 million in economic impact for the city and surrounding areas. “We offer programs that begin as early as age three and span through adult leagues with participants more than 65 years of age. It has been fun creating an environment in Frisco for kids, athletes and parents.”

The PIT+ opened in Frisco in 2005 and hosts more than one million visitors, 2,500 teams and 30,000 participants annually in leagues and activities. The PIT+ offers the largest indoor soccer facility featuring two of the largest indoor turf fields in Texas, one full-size outdoor FIFA-certified turf field and two outdoor 4v4 soccer fields. In 2016, James Meese and Steve Dunker expanded The PIT+ offerings with a 40-acre sports park in Plano. Work has also begun on an additional facility in Roanoke with five outdoor fields (set to open this fall) and an indoor facility (set to open next winter). With the Roanoke facility just recently breaking ground, every field in construction is sold out for months after its opening. 

The PIT+ focuses on the elite soccer athlete, teaching kids of all ages with a renowned training academy led by Peter Luccin. The PIT+ has become known as the largest training program in Texas, with roots right here in Frisco. The facility strives to offer excellence in training for indoor soccer athletes and helps kids and adults stay engaged in soccer while catering to families, sports leagues, professional and semi-professional teams, youth groups and more. The organization also offers additional soccer training resources to youth players, as well as junior academy training for children. Adult and youth leagues, in addition to summer camps and even birthday and team party options are available. 

District Leadership

The FISD serves as the cornerstone to athletic careers under the care, support and direction of some of the finest coaches and leaders in the nation. While there are several facets that play into Frisco being the Best Place to Raise an Athlete, Ms. Roe believes FISD is one of the largest. “It starts with the school district and the smaller schools model, which allows so many more kids in Frisco the opportunity to compete in sports. It then extends to local sports associations, both amateur and club level, that are available in Frisco. All of this culminates into our kids having access to multiple professional sports teams and facilities.” Mr. Dill adds, “We provide our youth the opportunity to see athletes reach their pinnacles and compete at the highest levels, which we hope will inspire them to strive for excellence.” 

The FISD has long been among the top school districts in the country, as its small school model has allowed it to focus on the names and needs of all students, athletes included, and it has allowed more students the opportunity to pursue athletic greatness across a vast number of sports avenues. The district currently has competitive football, basketball, softball, golf, swimming and diving, baseball, softball, track and cross-country, soccer and tennis programs at the high school level. 

The FISD has experienced astronomical growth, going from one high school to having 10 competitive high schools with outstanding athletic programs. The FISD athletic director, David Kuykendall, or “Coach K,” as he is known around the FISD, has led and served coaches and student athletes for 25 years. During his time as the athletic director, Mr. Kuykendall has grown and developed a culture of leadership, respect, integrity and pride as the district has prospered. He shares, “With Centennial High School opening in 2003, through Memorial High School’s 2018 opening, we have had a lot to be proud of and we have handled it with consistency, fairness and equality. When we began this journey, the ‘experts’ said dividing schools up would ‘water down’ the talent and FISD would not be able to compete. 15 years later, 18 State Championships and five State Runner-Up finishes in team competitions have proved the ‘experts’ wrong.” 

One of the most important aspects of success comes from coaches. As Billy Graham once said, “A coach will impact more people in one year than the average person will in an entire lifetime,” and how true it is! Coaching is an admittedly strenuous and tough task, but one that is highly impactful and stays with kids for a lifetime. Mr. Kuykendall says, “Frisco is blessed to have quality coaches who serve as role models for athletes, emphasizing integrity, sportsmanship and class, while paying attention to the little things, all of which have paid dividends both on and off the field. I am most proud of the expectations the district has for all who are involved in the athletic programs and the determination to uphold those standards.” 

Well-supported coaches who have each other’s best interests at heart are impactful in the lives of student athletes, as it allows them a firsthand look at sportsmanship, integrity and character. These coaches are paving the way for students to flourish into professional athletes, as well. “I believe we have had at least a dozen athletes who have gone on to be professional athletes. I know we had more than 80 athletes sign national letters of intent in February alone,” says Grace McDowell, FISD assistant athletic director. “Coaches provide information to athletes and parents about the recruiting process and steps to take to prepare academically and athletically for the next level. In addition, our coaches have open communication with college coaches regarding athletes and provide information to college coaches such as GPA, test scores, basic biographies and stats for student athletes. Most importantly, FISD coaches prepare student athletes for the next level by teaching them time management, how to balance academic and athletic responsibilities, how to be a part of a team, how to be accountable to others and how to work hard on a daily basis, whether it is during season or in the off season. 

The high school athletic environment mimics the college environment in important ways. High school and college athletes are held accountable similarly, from how they perform in the classroom to what they post on social media. These things are essential to being successful at the next level.”

In terms of hiring the right coach for such an important role, Ms. McDowell shares, “Of course, we look for coaches who have expertise and experience in their sport, but our coaches are first and foremost teachers, so it is very important they are highly-qualified and can provide great instruction in the classroom. However, our top priority is to find men and women of character who will be great role models, who care about kids and who will develop positive relationships with students.” 

Jerry Littlejohn, the FISD assistant athletic director, shares, “Many coaches appreciate and prefer FISD’s philosophy of providing as many opportunities for students as possible. The FISD small school model supports this philosophy. We have always emphasized a standard of hiring people of high character who put the development of young men and women of high character above winning and losing. FISD believes high character people will develop a quality culture, which will lead to success in the athletic arena and in life. These are the people we try to hire as coaches.”

Chad Cole, the head football coach and campus coordinator at Reedy High School, has served as a coach in FISD for 15 years and believes it has the most unique district in the state, if not the country. “Personally speaking, FISD offers me a small-knit, one high school feel, wrapped up in what is now a 10 high school district. We maintain that small feel because, in some shape or form, all campuses are connected and we do a phenomenal job of hiring and promoting from within our own district,” he says. Coach Cole values the relationships he has formed with student athletes and the mentorship he has received from other coaches in the district. He continues, “At the end of the day, our job is to help grow student athlete success on and off the field.” 

Kyle Story, the Independence High School head football coach and campus coordinator, explains, “The camaraderie among the high schools and middle schools is unparalleled and like nothing I have seen in any other district. Every coach is willing to share philosophies, ideas and goals to help improve programs, which is something that is hard to find among competing schools.” 

Chris Burtch, the Liberty High School head football coach and campus coordinator, hopes to impact his athletes both on and off the field through valuable life lessons. “Our athletes are required to put their hearts and bodies on the line, and sometimes those risks pay off in wins … sometimes in losses. Regardless of the outcome, we must get up and get ready for the next play, the next week, the next challenge. This is life, and it is what we ask our student athletes to do — to work hard, sacrifice for others, take risks, serve the greater good and reap the rewards graciously … get up when knocked down. In life, we will succeed and we will fail, and moving forward after a great gain or loss is a must,” he shares. 

Marty Secord, the Wakeland High School head football coach and campus coordinator, believes the roles of coaches in student athletes’ lives are more important than ever before. He explains, “We find that, more and more, our kids need attention to detail in the areas of character, citizenship, accountability and worth ethic. Coaches have a truly unique opportunity to make a positive difference, and our role is critical because we spend a lot of time with these kids every single day. Simply put, we know them. I believe coaches and a positive athletic program are final stops a kid makes before entering the adult phase of life, and what a difference we can make if we simply take the time! I am still coaching after 35 years because of the coaches I was blessed to have who gave me the tools I needed. I still want to make them proud! The power of influence a coach possesses is critical and unique and we must continue to use it in a powerful way for positive results.” 

The successes of FISD’s sports programs are evident in the caliber of athletes as competition remains fierce. While motivation might come easily to some athletes, there are days when even the best need reassurance, and keeping student athletes motivated to be great in every facet of life is an aspect of growing up that is not easy to navigate. Jeff Rayburn, the Lone Star High School head football coach and campus coordinator, attributes motivating Lone Star athletes by making practice the best part of their day. He explains, “Athletics must be fun and engaging. This all starts with building relationships with athletes. The old saying ‘they do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care’ holds true still today. It is important for athletes to understand the purpose of athletics and team sports and the goals of the team. Once they understand these, it helps them become and stay motivated in knowing that they are working towards something bigger than themselves.”

There is no doubt FISD coaches and athletes are among some of the luckiest in the country, as their athletic success is only accelerated by partnerships both the city and school district have formed with professional organizations that help solidify Frisco as the Best Place to Raise an Athlete. Mr. Kuykendall explains, “The relationships we have with the Dallas Cowboys and The Star have allowed our varsity teams to play in an indoor stadium that holds 12,000 people with state-of-the-art amenities. For players and coaches, the opportunity is unimaginable, and our soccer teams are allowed similar opportunities. When a family is looking to re-locate to North Texas, The Star and this partnership are quite attractive. Additionally, our partnership with Nike® has turned out to be simply awesome! Over the lifetime of the contract, all high school athletes and coaches will be suited in Nike apparel, and the middle schools have similar plans. Toyota Stadium and FC Dallas were early partners and they have truly been a joy to work with. Since the beginning, our football and soccer teams have been allowed to play on one of the best grass fields in the state, and the experience our players and coaches have every Thursday and Friday in the fall is unmatched. Our most recent partnership is with Baylor Scott & White, and we have joined with the training and medical team to be exposed to Fusionetics, a program based on individual training of each athlete contingent on their performance in a series of physical tests. No other high school district the size of FISD in the nation has had exposure to this type of personalized workout that our athletes will have during their high school careers.”

Youth Sports Programs

To excel in sports later in life, kids need to start young. If you ask parents of any athlete what their weeknights and weekends look like, they will laugh and tell you most of them consist of shuttling kids from one practice to another. 

The Frisco Football League (FFL), Frisco Soccer Association (FSA) and Frisco Flyers Volleyball are all local programs that build valuable skills for success. 

The FFL is designed to teach young men and women basic skills of football and cheerleading. FFL President Matt Wargel shares, “We pride ourselves on being an instructional league that puts player safety first, as well as working to teach each player the necessary skills to progress toward middle school athletics. The league requires every player have a starting position, as they feel it encourages player growth and fosters a love for the game. Mr. Wargel feels sports are essential to not only the physical, but also mental development of a child. “Athletics, and football, in particular, allow kids to be part of something outside of school. It teaches teamwork, which is vital as they continue to grow. It teaches responsibility, timeliness and hustle. Football, unlike any other sport, teaches that when you get knocked down, you have to make the decision to get back up and try again. Athletics have long been the great American melting pot. The huddle, dugout or bench is a wonderful place for kids to get to know people who are different from them and how to interact with one another,” he shares. 

Frisco is also home to the FSA, where, for many athletes, it is their first experience with organized sports or soccer. FSA President Steve Johnson says, “Our responsibility is to foster an environment allowing young athletes to enjoy the game, develop skills, learn about teamwork and build the foundation for any future soccer aspirations. We have seen tremendous benefits to our own children as a result of participating in youth sports. The lessons they learned from being on a team and having personal responsibility for their position is invaluable as they grow older. Learning how to win and lose and understanding they need to work hard to accomplish goals is a great experience.” FSA firmly stands behind all Frisco is and has become for young athletes and believes the diversity of activities available to young athletes helps their overall athletic ability by cross-training them in different sports. 

The Frisco Flyers Volleyball Club is another Frisco sports organization that supports the careers of young athletes and helps them become successful at any level. Club Director Jason Rogers says the quality of coaches set the standard with a high level of morals and values. The club is coming off a successful 2017-2018 season and is now ranked top 5 in the North Texas Region. “Besides the success of our teams, we take pride in the atmosphere of our club being known as ‘Flyers Family.’ We are extremely blessed to have wonderful families in our club who are so supportive, with not just their own athlete’s team, but all our teams.” Mr. Rogers believes kids starting sports keeps them active and healthy. “Sports teach basic life lessons … if you win or lose. They also teach you how to work with a team. It is a great experience meeting new people who become life-long friends,” he explains. 

Frisco Flyers’ volleyball teams range from ages six to eighteen with ability levels from beginner to elite. Mr. Rogers attests that Frisco is a great place to raise an athlete based on the variety of sports offered at the youth level. “The facilities available, the dedication of coaches and families, and the levels at which athletes are playing are pieces that allow us to build the strongest players and young adults in the community by using sports to shape their lives.”

Frisco has welcomed facilities, organizations, teams and businesses that will only make its young athletes more motivated and proud to be part of something so much bigger than themselves. With support from city leadership, a vision to keep sports and our athletes’ success at the forefront, an award-winning, highly-successful and continually growing school district and youth sports organizations that foster that love for sports early on, our city’s young athletes are truly able to chase their dreams in the Best Place to Raise an Athlete.

Allie Spletter
Allie Spletter is a wannabe foodie and lover of all things pink and crafty.