Albany: It’s not just about football and track anymore

It wasn’t long ago that when discussing Albany high school athletics, the range of topics were narrowed fairly quickly.

For decades, the Lions have been a Big Country football power. While in track, AHS has produced several quality athletes, pole vaulters in particular.

It was difficult to speak about the Lions without one of these topics eventually dominating the conversation. That, however, is beginning to evolve, courtesy of burgeoning basketball and baseball programs which, at present, rival that seen on the gridiron.

Following yet another successful football campaign that saw the Lions push to the Region 2-2A DII semifinals, the Lions jumped into basketball, where they again reached a regional semifinal.

This is now a steady trend.

Albany hoops reached the Region I-2A semifinals in 2016 before falling to eventual state champion Canadian. In 2015, AHS basketball reached the regional quarterfinals and was a bi-district finalist in 2014.

Most recently, Lion baseball has snagged the spotlight, with an 8-2 win over area rival Stamford — signalling that a repeat performance of last year is more than possible.

A year ago, Albany baseball reached the Region I-2A championship series where it fell to Stamford. In 2015, Lion baseball went two rounds deep before falling to Hawley in the Region I-2A quarterfinals. The year before, the Lions entered the playoffs as district champions before bowing out in the area round.

The point, in case you’ve missed it, is that over the past four years, Albany has evolved beyond football power into what some may argue is the best overall small-school athletic program in Texas.

“I just think it’s the commitment from our kids,” said longtime Albany Athletic Director Denney Faith, whose football team has reached four state title games since he took over the program in the late 1980s. “We encourage them to do as many things as possible.

“We don’t want them specializing in anything. We want them playing and competing all year long. … The commitment from them is really what makes it all happen.”

One of the biggest challenges involved with maintaining a high level of success through multiple sports at the small-school level is the time element.

With a limited number of available bodies, a deep run from your football team means limited practice time and non-district games for basketball. A successful basketball campaign generally means a late start for baseball.

“I’m always asked how I deal with it when our basketball team plays deep, but we have to deal with it in every sport,” Albany baseball coach David Fairchild said. “Our football team played deep and our basketball team played deep. Then I get them in March. We had a little slow start, but they’re competitors.”

Slow starts in Albany are a relative term. Friday’s win over Stamford pushed the Lions to 6-1-1 on the year.

The Lions entered the weekend unranked. But the general consensus is this Albany club is again a regional threat.

“We’ve just got a really good group of kids,” Fairchild said. “Our kids compete in football, playing 15 or 16 weeks, then they turn around and jump right into basketball without hesitation.

Then they come out here and do the same thing.”