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Hicks opts to give up soccer job

After mulling it over for nearly four months, South Medford High boys soccer coach Wally Hicks has decided to step down.

Hicks, who led the Panthers to their first Class 4A state title in November, said Monday that a combination of factors -- including the demands of his off-campus job -- was behind the decision.

Last year was kind of a stretch to make it work, said Hicks, who is a sales manager at Norman Lumber Co. in Phoenix. But I felt obligated to do it last year and I'm certainly glad I did.

In eight years as South Medford's coach, Hicks guided the Panthers to six Southern Oregon Conference titles -- going unbeaten in league play all six times -- and went 57-5-2. Hicks' teams went 107-17-2 overall and 15-5 in the state playoffs.

There's little question that 1997 was Hicks' crowning moment, powered by a team with 13 senior players, 11 of whom were starters.

The Panthers rolled through the SOC unbeaten and capped their 15-1-1 season with a 5-0 victory over South Eugene in the state title game.

That's a nice way to go out, Hicks said. You kind of feel like a rat doing it but how do you get out of it? If I'd stayed one more year and didn't do it again, I'd feel like I had to stay until we did do it again.

The pending graduation of South's senior class also had a lot to do with his decision. Hicks said he wouldn't have wanted to stay for much longer anyway and that a coach more committed to the long term would better suit the program.

It's just an appropriate time, he said. We graduated 13 seniors from the team this year. You always feel bad about the ones you are deserting but I think it's a good time to bring in a new coach.

Two of last year's standouts -- state player of the year Bryn Ritchie and goalie Chad Warren -- were four-year starters and several others played under Hicks for three years at the varsity level. He said the next group coming through deserves a chance to bond with a coach like that.

We've got a really good group of young kids coming up and somebody needs to work with them for three or four years and start the whole thing over again, said Hicks. You need that kind of commitment going in to build a state championship-type team.

That's what we'd worked for in eight years and we finally did it.

Hicks said he enjoyed his eight years at South and has no plans to coach anywhere else.

That was really part of the big decision, he said. Will I ever be a coach again? You have to make that decision and that's really hard. I've been agonizing over this thing since November. It's been a real tough thing to decide to do.

Hicks submitted his letter of resignation on March 3. Medford School District athletic director Bruce Howell said the position has been posted, although he knows of no applicants yet.