Feature article from Texan Live Magazine
When Ed Warken retired following the 2015-2016 seasons as Cypress-Fairbanks Athletic Director, Ray Zepeda stepped in.
On June 13, Zepeda was officially named Warken’s replacement after spending the past three years as the associate athletic director. Zepeda brings 23 years of experience in Texas public education, including time spent as the athletic director in Mathis ISD and Galena Park ISD.
During the summer we caught up with the new leader of Cy-Fair Athletics.
JK: What’s it like being the Athletic Director of Cy-Fair ISD?
RZ: “I just think in general I feel extremely fortunate. To be working here, to be in this position at this time. I’ve always felt throughout my career that Cy-Fair ISD is really one of the premiere districts in the State of Texas for a couple of different reasons. We have a very vibrant and diverse community that is continually growing. I think the community values athletics, so to be here, to be a part of serving this community (I feel) very fortunate. We’ve got a tremendous school board and superintendent that value excellence in athletics. You mention the Berry Center, you only need to look at this facility to understand that and know that. Then I think finally just the excellence we have here in athletics represented by the fantastic coaching staff that we have. I think when you look at all of that I guess the word that I would use and I use everyday is fortunate.”
JK: Having this many schools under your direction, and also adding more schools, what is it like continuing to grow?
RZ: “I think if you look at the big picture it would be easy to get overwhelmed. I think that what we try to do here everyday is try and keep the small picture in mind. Our basic and most essential service that we provide is to provide support for our coaches so that they can more effectively work with the kids that they are serving. So I think we try to boil it down everyday to that. I think that allows us to breakup the larger job into more manageable pieces. It is a big district but again I think it offers us a lot of opportunities for excellence.”
JK: What is your main mission and some of your goals in this first year as Athletic Director?
RZ: “I think our mission has always been about service and support to our coaches and our athletic programs. So I think that’s where we begin. I think overall though we’ve always hung our hat on three things; that’s utilizing athletics to promote academic excellence for our kids, kids are motivated by their participation in athletics and we want to utilize that in a positive way to drive improvement in their academic performance. I think then you also utilizing the motivator that athletics is to enhance where those kids are socially and behaviorally. I think finally trying to continue to develop our coaches so they can be the best role models they can be as they serve and support the kids in their schools.”
JK: What’s it like seeing athletes from Cy-Fair succeed at the highest level in the Olympics or professional sports?
RZ: “It’s awesome and exciting. It seems like every other day you’re seeing something on social media where a Cy-Fair ISD is succeeding on the highest level. You mentioned Camille Adams from Cy-Woods going to the Olympics in swimming. I saw that we had a gymnast from Cy-Creek, I saw that we have a cyclist from Cy-Springs that’s in the Tour de France right now. So it’s amazing. I think it puts further emphasis on what we’re doing with kids everyday and explanation point that our job is very very important with these kids. If we do it the right way what they can later accomplish is really unlimited.”
JK: What do you see the biggest challenge for high school athletics for the next few years going further into this new technology age?
RZ: “I don’t know if I can speak for all of high school athletics, but I think for ours is just managing the growth that we do have here and maintaining excellence as we continue to grow. I think that that’s always a challenge we will have. I think the explosion in social media and in the live-streaming, I think those are all positive things. I know some of them have negative connotations but I think that they do offer a lot of different platforms for the general public to become exposed to what we are doing with kids and what our kids and coaches can accomplish. I think the more we can publicize their efforts through different types of mediums I think the better it is for us as an athletic department.
JK: What’s your favorite part of this job?
RZ: “I think it’s watching kids and coaches being successful. I coached for over 20 years. I always felt it was an honor to be called coach. To actually get to see so many different coaches and programs all different, all with different personalities leading them up, all with different personalities participating in those programs, but to see them all in their own ways achieve success is probably the No. 1 I get out of this job.”
JK: What’s it like being in a community that supports athletics so much?
RZ: “It’s exciting. We just did undergo naming rights here, so the Berry Center, the stadium portion, will be renamed Cy-Fair Federal Credit Union Stadium. We’re excited about that. We got great participation from our community. I think if you come out here on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night you’re going to see most nights the stands pretty full. I don’t know if that occurs in every community. To see that and with the renovation we have going on a Kim Pridgeon Stadium and to see the stands full and people excited to be here, it’s great to have such community events. I think our athletic events are community events with so many kids participating and performing, not just the athletes, but the band and the drill team, it’s quite a spectacle to sit in the endzone and take a look at that.”
JK: Do you have any projects coming up you want to see done?
RZ: “I think this is a great time to be in athletics here in Cy-Fair ISD because there are so many tremendous things taking place right now as we speak. I mentioned the Pridgeon Stadium renovation, we have a new natatorium that’s going up at that site that’s going to just be tremendous. We have a very large community that swims here and that supports swimming and diving. So to have a first-class facility for them is going to just be outstanding. The 2014 Bond Issue that we had is touching so many of campuses in a positive way in the athletic areas. So we’ve been working through that, our middle schools are getting all-weather tracks, so this is really, truly an exciting time to be here. I think because of the things that have already been put in place that we are now carrying forward over the next few years.”
JK: How much pride will you have this year as the athletic director to see programs at State Tournaments?
RZ: “It’s great. I don’t know if my position change really impacts the sense of pride I have. I know last year we had a very special year where Cypress Ranch played in the State Championship game in football the previous year, Cy-Woods won a State Championship in basketball, Cy-Ridge won a State Championship in girls wrestling, this previous year Langham Creek going to the State Championship in baseball. We always feel like we have a chance with our programs to make a deep run at State success. To see kids and coaches who have worked so hard to be on that type of stage is extremely gratifying. I do think it’s a tremendous sense of pride for not only our department but also for our community as well.”
JK: What responsibility does it carry representing Cy-Fair ISD?
RZ: “I did not spend my entire career here but I tried to get here as fast as I could. Extreme amount of pride in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, in our coaches, in our kids and what this represents. I think it also brings with it a tremendous amount of responsibility. We mentioned driving up to work everyday, trust me when I say that I realize every single day when I come to work what it means to sit here and be in this position and to serve our coaches and kids and community. It’s something I take very, very seriously.”