Wildcat basketball making community impact

By Joseph Garcia

Amanda Woodbury fights for a rebound for the Liberty Hill Wildcats. (Photo by Kathy Canady)

The basketball season is seemingly never over in Liberty Hill.

From April 20-22, basketball teams from as far as China Spring flocked to Liberty Hill to participate in a three-day tournament hosted by the Liberty Hill Wildcats AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) Boys and Girls Basketball Club.

The event was held in the three gyms throughout the LHISD system. Liberty Hill High School, Junior High School and Intermediate School hosted the basketball tournament. This was the seventh year the event was held in Liberty Hill.

It was just one of four annual Liberty Hill Wildcat basketball tournaments.

The mission statement of the Liberty Hill Wildcats AAU Boys and Girls Basketball Club, in its ninth year of existence, states that it: Provides opportunities for personal growth and development of youth athletes while also reinforcing positive influences, self-confidence, self-esteem and the ability to excel on and off the court through participation. The Liberty Hill Wildcats are dedicated to educate and motivate each member while encouraging teamwork, sportsmanship and fun through the game of basketball.

Program Director Edward Beans said that one of the biggest services Liberty Hill Wildcat basketball has produced is that “we were the first boys and girls basketball club in the area that specialized in just basketball.”

Beans, who has lived in Liberty Hill for 19 years, said before their existence, there were no alternatives to play basketball outside of the basketball season; instead kids who wanted to stay active were forced to move on to the next sport like baseball.

“We found a niche that supported the fact that a lot of kids did not want to follow to the next sport or the status quo,” said Beans. “We found a group of young men that wanted to play basketball all the time. They didn’t want to move into baseball, they didn’t want to play football. They just wanted to play basketball.”

Beans said the program started off with just one fifth and sixth grade team which was very successful the first year. Eventually the Liberty Hill Wildcats grew to nine teams which were made up of 80 percent Liberty Hill kids.

However, Beans said he was met with a little resistance for year-round basketball since football is king in Texas.

“Let’s be serious now, this is Texas so this is football country,” he said. “So we were met with a little resistance, but other than that everything turned out pretty good.”

Combined with the Liberty Hill Swish organization, Beans said they may end up with 160 kids playing basketball in the offseason which is spring and summer this year.

Only TAFSA referees are used for the tournaments, giving the players a fair opportunity to win without any potential biases.

“We pay a little bit more for them, but that’s why teams come back,” Beans said. “We don’t go and get referees from the gas station. We get the professional organization refs.”

And the community’s youth are not the only ones benefiting from the Liberty Hill Wildcats AAU Boys and Girls Basketball Club tournaments being held in the city. There is a significant economic impact as well.

“Now these tournaments are bringing an economic impact to the city,” Beans said. “By our count we brought in over 2,200-2,500 people into Liberty Hill for the weekend.”

The next scheduled tournament will bring in at least 64 teams, which is their average, and should yield roughly 2,000 people per tournament, Beans said.

“When we first got started we shut down Subway because they weren’t prepared for us,” he joked. “Sonic is definitely crowded every basketball tournament. Smokey Mo’s business had increased and they also buy gasoline. They come to the city and fully take advantage of what we have. So, these basketball tournaments help bring in some pretty good tax dollars into the community.”

The final event of the summer for similar AAU teams throughout Central Texas will be held in Liberty Hill on the weekend of July 27. Beans said he expects a huge turnout, including perhaps teams from outside the state.

“Last year we had teams come in from Abilene and Oklahoma,” he said. “We worked hard to get to this spot to where teams want to come and play here. We have great facilities, a great staff and our prices are generally lower than what other clubs charge for admission. And the kids get a well-run tournament. Teams repeatedly come back every year and bring more teams with them.”