This year marks the 31st season for Firecrackers Softball, one of the giant brands in club softball and now flexing muscle around the country in 20 states. Highlights for the organization run far and wide, with another impressive group suiting up at 16u, the Brashear/Hicks squad born and based in San Diego.
Bill Hicks runs that 16u team and doubles up for the organization with a 14u team with athletes hailing from San Diego and Orange County. Triple Crown event directors and others have taken note of Hicks’ determination to train his athletes and prepare them for future exploits in the sport, with the 16u team holding up just fine at large-scale events, even against 18u competition.
Hicks played multiple sports growing up and earned a scholarship to play basketball at San Diego State, then got into coaching when his daughter Katy started playing softball. She’s already a D-I signee, heading to George Mason in the fall of 2021.
Q: How did you get yourself up to speed in terms of softball?
A: It all started in 6u T-ball, where I was a helper dad, so I was always the guy who helped but made sure I was learning from the coaches. W went through 8u, and I was invited to be on board of directors of the local league. Coming through rec ball into 10u, I was learning how to do budgets and make giant schedules and just organize things.
I coached my daughter’s team for one year, and we did pretty good. About the time she hit first-year 12’s, she came to her Mom and I and asked if she could play All-Stars all year round, and we explained, that means you’ll be playing travel ball. This was in 2014; we found a team for her, she tried it for the fall season and absolutely fell in love. They asked if I would do some managerial tasks at the end of the year. I came on board, started doing the budgets and scheduling, and that’s how it grew … a little at a time.
Q: At some point, you decided to get into the dugout. How did that happen?
A: The next year, 2015, I got a call from a travel club in San Diego, and they asked if I would be willing to take that age group, that was the 2021 grad year. They did not have that age group in the organization, and I had been recommended by some people in the rec ball community. I said yes, so we had tryouts for a second-year 12u team, and that was our beginning.
Q: The softball scene in SoCal appears to have many strong personalities. How do you navigate that?
A: It does take a certain personality to do it. You have to be fair yet firm with how you run the team. You have to be open-minded. You have to know what you have and be willing to be a unique individual. In Southern California, there are so many personalities … it’s easy to say, I just want to be like that coach, emulate that person. But some of the most successful coaches you’ll see are the ones who don’t conform to what everyone else does. They don’t follow - they are the leaders, the rainmakers. It’s really why I felt such a connection with Sean Brashear, and above him, Tony Rico and the rest of the Firecrackers organization. It really fit what we were doing. You’ll see in Southern California, it’s very easy to pick out the originals, the trail blazers, the guys who have been doing it their own way.
The one thing about Firecrackers, and Firecrackers-Brashear specifically, is that allow you to do what you feel is best, to be unique, but they do that with guidance. With Sean, he’s always there to answer questions, but there are things I do that he supports that are new and innovative and different. They support you being an individual and give help when you need it. It’s a big reason why I enjoy being there.
Q: Once your daughter heads to George Mason, will you stay in the game?
A: Absolutely, I’m staying in. Sean’s big question has been what will I do after (Katy’s team), and the plan is to circle down to the group that’s 14’s now and work on their recruiting. After that, maybe we’ll put together a team that’s younger, but the plan is to keep right on going. I love what I do.
Q: What’s the main message your players and parents have to understand?
A: We try to help the players understand that they’ll get out of this experience exactly what they put in. We are fair in what we do in terms of showcasing; if they are going to work hard, then we will work hard for them. Everything goes two ways. Play hard, and we’ll coach you hard. To put it in one phrase, we are all in this together.