Bob Hicks always had envisioned himself being a star basketball player at Sandburg High School.
“Being 5-foot-11, that was not going to happen,” the 1977 Sandburg graduate lamented. “I played basketball my freshman year, and I was going to play my sophomore year, but the coaches said they thought I should focus on cross country and track year round. I decided to go 100 percent and was able to have a lot of success.”
Heeding the advice of his coaches proved to be a smart decision.
Hicks emerged as one of the top middle-distance runners in Sandburg history and ended up with a scholarship to Auburn University.
Despite his running success, Hicks wasn’t exactly thrilled with the sport in the early stages of his high school career.
“I did pretty well in junior high, but I hardly trained,” Hicks said. “When I came to Sandburg, John Wilson, who coached basketball and cross country, pulled me aside and made me run because he knew I did well in junior high. I was reluctant as a freshman.
"I got better during the season, but I never enjoyed it. I started getting better. We had some great teams at Sandburg and a lot of success. It opened up a lot of doors for me. I appreciate those times more now that I’m older.”
Hicks: Pushing to New Level of Excellence
Hicks’ track and cross country prowess was taken to a new level when 1978 Sandburg graduate Tom Graves moved into the school district and started competing for the Eagles.
Graves, who is considered one of Illinois’ top distance runners of all-time, earned two state championships in cross country and four state crowns in track during his memorable high school career.
“I would’ve been very content just to be good, but when Tom came along, it really pushed me,” said Hicks, who later would be teammates with Graves at Auburn. “We realized we could do pretty well on the state level.
"I was kind of lazy and didn’t want to work hard. When I got to Sandburg, it was a combination of coaches and runners making me run in the summer and Tom coming along really was a big factor. He pushed me and I pushed him. We helped each other become better.”
Graves and Hicks led Sandburg to a third-place finish at the 1977 state track meet for the program’s lone trophy in the sport.
Hicks finished sixth at state in the 1,600-meter run as a sophomore, placed second as a junior before capturing the state championship as a senior. He tied the then-state record with a time of 4:07.1 and broke the Sandburg record in the event that still stands today.
“Winning the state championship was by far the highlight,” Hicks said. “I came close my junior year and thought I probably could’ve won it. My senior year, it came down to the last race of my high school career. It was do-or-die. I just knew I had to do it. There was a ton of pressure because a lot of people didn’t think I could do it.
“The race was a piece of cake. I had a huge lead off the first turn and ran the race by myself. I didn’t worry about anybody else. Tom (Graves) finished second. He closed on me down the straightaway and I didn’t know he was that close. I was kind of like, ‘Whoa, when I finished and saw him.' It was a tremendous relief when I won it.”
Hicks also shined in cross country as a two-time all-state performer. He placed 13th at state as a junior and 12th his senior season.
“Cross country was more disappointing,” Hicks said. “I was always running neck-and-neck with Tom until the state meet. A couple years in a row I got sick and didn’t do as well as I wanted. I was predicted to finish in the top three my senior year. I was all-state, so I can’t complain. My times were pretty decent, I just broke down at the end of the year and there are no excuses.”
COMING THURSDAY: Log on at 6 a.m. Thursday to find out what Bob Hicks is doing nowadays and what he thinks of Sandburg's latest distance running sensation, Lukas Verzbicas.