Looking back on my eight plus years here at The Sun-Times, it's amazing to think about the numerous upgrades built for the luxury of area coaches and athletes.

Looking back on my eight plus years here at The Sun-Times, it’s amazing to think about the numerous upgrades built for the luxury of area coaches and athletes.

In 2006 Heber Springs was a one stop light town with outdated facilities utilized for nearly every sport. The most densely populated town off the shores of Greers Ferry Lake now has four traffic signals, a roundabout traffic circle and new facilities or major upgrades benefiting all sports.

The area sports scene is booming with natural gas money helping boost the local economy. The infrastructure for success has been paved over the past decade. Now it’s up to the players and coaches to keep the programs headed in the right direction.

Once Quitman completes its $5.9 million gym, five of the six area schools will boast state-of-the-art basketball facilities capable of holding regional and state tournaments. Rose Bud, Heber Springs, West Side, Pangburn and soon Quitman will all have relatively new gyms.

However, Concord proved the past few years that a new facility is not required to win championships. The Pirates won the 1A state basketball title this year after finishing runner-up the previous season. It marked the first time a boys’ basketball team from Cleburne County had won a state championship since 1983, when West Side won it all.

Basketball is not the only sport that has undergone change. Panther Stadium has a new track surface and new turf on the football field, while the Heber Springs baseball, softball and soccer programs enjoy the benefit of playing at the beautiful new complex near Eden Isle.

West Side boasts gorgeous new baseball and softball fields nestled in the pine trees across from the school and Rose Bud recently constructed a new baseball diamond complete with lights, which will allow the Ramblers to play conference doubleheaders.

Quitman, which basically remodeled its entire football stadium prior to last season, also has a relatively new baseball/softball complex.

Volleyball has popped up at Rose Bud and Heber Springs, which is currently discussing the addition of soccer in 2016. All of these upgrades and additions are great but the kids need to understand it doesn’t automatically make them better.
Hard work, dedication, character, discipline and talent separate winners from pretenders. Good leaders help make sure their athletes are in winning condition ¬ both physically and mentally.

However, no matter how great a coach, winning without talent is impossible. Talent is not always God given. Heber and the lake area schools now possess nearly all the tools available to entice potential athletes who may have not participated otherwise. These kids could blossom from raw to talented in a short period of time.

A new era begins this school year when Heber welcomes new head coaches in football, boys’ basketball and softball under the watch of first-year athletic director Brad Reese. Heber is certainly not alone in the coaching carousel as Quitman and Rose Bud also hired new football coaches. Rose Bud has a new baseball coach too.

It would be nice to see all of the sports at each school display comraderie and share athletes. After all, once they graduate only a select few will advance to the college athletic ranks, while the vast majority will be wishing they had played multiple sports rather than placing all their focus into one activity.

An abundance of coaching changes in a short amount of time makes it a little unsettling for many of the lake area programs. But if the athletes will give their time and dedication to the new coaches, they have the infrastructure in place to succeed on the state level.

Not that Concord’s basketball team needed any of that fancy stuff.

(Will Gilbert is sports editor for The Sun-Times. Send comments to sports@thesuntimes.com)