By Joseph Garcia
“I LOVE SOFTBALL” are the words inscribed on Charice Hankins’ lanyard keychain.
And after devoting 20 years to Liberty Hill High School, the Women’s Athletic Coordinator and head softball coach is finally being recognized on a state level for her efforts. Recently, she was named the All-Central Texas Coach of the Year for 2012 by the Austin American-Statesman.
There was only one Central Texas coach to take a team to the UIL State Softball Tournament in 2012 and it was Hankins, who coached her team to a 27-9 record in route to the big dance. The Lady Panthers came up short of a State Championship losing to Henderson High School 3-0, but they and Coach Hankins made history by advancing the furthest the school ever has in softball.
Hankins first fell in love with the game when she began playing softball with her mother in their church softball league as a pre-teen, Hankins said.
“So at a young age I was pitching,” she said. “I was a speedster and I loved the game.”
Not many sixth graders know what they want to do when they grow up. But Hankins knew exactly what she wanted her future occupation to be and shared the news with her mother.
“I’ve always wanted to be a coach,” Hankins said. “Starting in sixth grade I knew that this is what I wanted to do. I went home and told my mom I want to be a coach. I knew I had something to offer a team and as a player I knew what motivated me and so that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up. I played basketball, but softball is my love.”
Hankins said she played in competitive softball leagues her whole life, including intramural softball as a freshman at East Texas Baptist University. She ceased playing competitive softball when she was about 35, but has always remained a part of the game, she said.
A native of Greenville in Northeast Texas, Hankins graduated from Southwest Texas in 1990 where she earned her bachelor’s degree in education and did her student teaching at Pflugerville High School where she would find the path to her first coaching gig.
Pflugerville Athletic Coordinator Frank Ty then accepted a job in Florence and asked Hankins to be an assistant basketball coach.
“I took the job and when I got there the head coach didn’t show up,” Hankins explained. “So I ended up becoming the head coach (basketball and track) my first year. It was pretty scary, but exciting. So my first job was kind of thrown in. It was an exciting two years.”
Hankins said her transition to Liberty Hill took place after meeting then-Athletic Coordinator Wade Johnston at a few athletic events while she was still coaching in Florence.
“We had a great relationship and he liked the way I coached and was excited about my excitement for sports,” she said. “And then he asked me to come to Liberty Hill.”
In 1992, Hankins was hired to be the assistant volleyball and head women’s track coach for Liberty Hill High School and made an immediate impact.
In 1993-94, Hankins coached the women’s track team to its first District Championships in Liberty Hill history.
“Those were the first two district championships Liberty Hill had ever had,” Hankins said proudly pointing to the purple banner hanging in the Panthers Den. “Those were mine.”
Then in 1995, Hankins became the head volleyball coach and immediately won outright or had a share of the district crown in her first two years. She knew the basics of volleyball and some strategy, but learned on the job as well from LHHS mother and former All-American volleyball player at Southwestern, Alphie Perrin
“I think my specialty as a coach is to motivate and get the kids prepared,” Hankins admitted. “I didn’t know volleyball very well, but everything that I knew Alphie Perrin taught (me). I felt like she taught me a whole lot.”
Ms. Perrin is currently a member of the LHISD Board of Trustees and her daughter, Kallie, will be entering her junior season on the varsity volleyball team.
After 10 years of coaching volleyball, Hankins knew she had reached her ceiling as the lead instructor in the sport. That’s when she went to Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Vance for a sit down.
“I went to Coach Vance and said we had made it to Area three or four times and I felt like I had done everything I could do to get them as far as we could go,” she said. “I thought that we needed to get a volleyball coach in here. I knew that as a coach I was good at a lot of things, but realistically we needed a real volleyball player to come in here and coach.”
This led to the hiring of Perrin for a year and eventually the hiring of current volleyball coach Gretchen Peterson.
Softball was added as a sport in Liberty Hill in 1995, according to Hankins. It was an exciting time for her since softball was her first love.
“I started the softball program here in 1995,” she said. “So I was the first and only (softball coach) and it was exciting. That was back when we were 2A and competing with Dripping Springs and Lake Travis. It was great. Back then (softball) was still relatively new to Central Texas. Not everybody had softball and so we grew and we learned.”
With the exception of one year, the Liberty Hill High School softball program has made it to the playoffs every single season, with the most successful one in 2012.
Of nine defeats this season, two matter the most to Hankins and were both 3-0. The first loss (at Taylor April 10) she pointed to was the turning point of the season.
“When Taylor beat us there, I think that was a big turning point because our kids realized that we’re good, but we are not unbeatable and we are going to have to play harder and focus,” Hankins said. “We can’t take any team for granted.”
That loss to Taylor was the Lady Panthers’ first in nine games and the last one until the state semifinal. The defeat was a very important message for her team that anyone can be beat.
“We had two games that we were shut out (this season),” she said. “And they were that one and the state semifinal game.”
Hankins said growth and redirection of energy was the key reason for her team’s success this season.
She said from their sophomore years the seniors grew and realized that “this is bigger than me” and they had to get on the same page and work together.
When the class of 2012 lost their junior year in the second round, it was an eye-opening time, said Hankins.
“They realized that they only had one more shot,” she said.
This season the goal was to win district and to make it to the state tournament. The team had a saying and an acronym which reminded them of the stated goal every day.
“We said DCSC, which is District Champs, State Champs,” Hankins explained. “We were a game short of that, but I am so proud of the way they came together.”
Coach Hankins has progressed with coaching each year and the challenge of making it to the State Tournament eluded her as a player, but made her a better coach in the long run.
“As a player in high school being in that State Tournament was a goal and it never (happened),” she said. “In my 20s and 30s I coached like I played. Now that I’ve learned how to communicate with kids and try to reach all kids, my philosophy has changed and has gotten better. Dealing with and trying to motivate kids is a big thing.”
When Hankins received the news that she was selected to receive the Coach of the Year award, she was shocked.
“I was very surprised,” she said. “If you ask me what my career record is I wouldn’t be able to tell you. This isn’t about me, it’s about what I do. But when I (was awarded the honor) it made me very proud. Coaches work hard and our goal is to make it to the state championship and to be honored by the media and peers.
“I had a lot of coaches that have texted and e-mailed me and said congratulations. They’ve kind of watched my journey and so it’s kind of neat to be looked at. A lot of coaches never make it to the state championship or even to the tournament their whole careers,” Hankins said. “So it was really neat.”
In her 20th year as a coach in Liberty Hill, this season was the sweetest, said Hankins who was on the basketball staff for Matt Kirschner.
Hankins was also on the bench for Liberty Hill’s 2004 run to the State Tournament for basketball. But 2012 will be remembered fondly for her baby – Liberty Hill softball – breaking into the UIL State Tournament.
“I think this was the best year for our women’s athletics and for me as a coach. It’s just a dream,” she said.