Lawrence High hires former coach, LHS grad Nick Wood as new athletic director
photo by: Matt Tait
Lawrence High School is turning to one of its own to lead its athletic department into the future.
Former LHS girls basketball and softball coach Nick Wood, who graduated from the school in 1996, was formally hired as the school’s new athletic director and assistant principal during the Lawrence school board meeting Monday night. He replaces John Hilton, who left after two years to take a similar job at Blue Valley Northwest.
Wood, 42, spent last school year coaching girls basketball and teaching marketing and computer sciences at Free State High, but his history with LHS goes back three decades.
During his time at the school in the mid-1990s, Wood led the LHS basketball program in scoring as a senior, was a member of the 1995 state title team as a junior and also earned All-Sunflower League honors as a pitcher in baseball. After graduating, he attended Kansas State University on a baseball scholarship and finished his college career playing basketball at Baker University.
Wood returned to the district in 2005 as an assistant coach with the boys basketball team at Free State.
From there, he moved into a head coaching role with the LHS girls basketball program from 2009-14, served as the Lions head softball coach from 2011-13 and wound up back at Free State in 2019 as the Free State girls basketball coach.
“I am excited for Nick to join the administrative team and to return to the Chesty Lion family,” interim LHS principal Cynthia Johnson said in a news release. “Nick has an inside perspective on what it means to uphold and continue the legacy of Lawrence High School.”
In all, counting his five years coaching boys and girls teams overseas in Oman and a year as an assistant coach to former KU guard Brett Ballard at Washburn University in 2018-19, Wood has coached basketball for 13 consecutive seasons. Although he’s stepping away from the bench, he is confident that he’ll have plenty to keep his competitive juices flowing in his new role.
“I’m not coaching basketball players anymore,” Wood said Monday. “But I am still coaching coaches. It was difficult to make the decision to step away from the team I had at Free State because those girls and the coaching staff did an unbelievable job of buying into our vision for that program. And they were all incredible in how they responded to the news. But it was not a difficult decision to take this opportunity, and I’m really excited about being back at LHS.”
One of Wood’s biggest challenges in Year 1 figures to be leading the Lions through the COVID-19 pandemic, which threatens to reshape the way high school athletics look for the 2020-21 school year.
Already involved on a daily basis in organizing the way that LHS coaches conduct summer conditioning sessions, Wood said he was hopeful that their efforts now would mean good things for the fall sports seasons and beyond.
“I’ve been really impressed,” Wood said. “They’re on it. They’re organized and they’re collaborating and doing everything they need to do to handle this thing in the best way possible.”
Wood first met with all of LHS’s head coaches last week. He already knew many of them and has continued to conduct one-on-one meetings to get a better feel for what the coaches and programs need and how he can help.
Wood said he views building quality relationships and providing unwavering support as two of the biggest keys to his new job. Those traits have been a big part of his basketball programs, as well, he said.
Although the goal of becoming an athletic director only surfaced when Wood was overseas and began to get more involved with the leadership side of education, he spent the past couple of years fine-tuning those skills.
He recently participated in the USD 497 Leadership Academy and served on the Free State School Redesign Committee and also gained his building leadership endorsement from Fort Hays State University.
“I think it’s important for people to always keep looking for ways to grow,” Wood said. “And I’ve been doing things to prepare myself for this to happen. I didn’t know when it would, or if it would, but I’m beyond excited that it’s happening now and I can’t wait to get started.”