District realignment puts hold on longtime rivalry

By TAYLOR GRAFFT

The University Interscholastic League released the new district alignments for football and basketball on Monday morning and with the changes come a few big surprises for Liberty Hill.

The Liberty Hill basketball teams will play in Class 4A Region 4 District 25 with Burnet, Lampasas, Llano, Salado and Taylor. Runnin’ Panthers Coach Barry Boren and Lady Panthers Coach Matt Kirschner are very familiar with newcomers Salado and Taylor because they were in Liberty Hill’s district four years ago. Both the girls and boys teams also played in a Salado Tournament in December 2013.

Liberty Hill’s other sports besides basketball and football will find out their district alignments in the next two or three weeks.

After Liberty Hill was moved into Class 4A Division I for football in early January. A new Class 6A was created for fall 2014 pushing most existing 3A school districts into Class 4A. A district’s classification is determined by high school enrollment and Liberty Hill climbed to 954 students on the official reporting date at the end of October 2013. The cutoff numbers for Class 4A are 465-1,059. There are 186 Class 4A schools for 2014-2016.

On Monday, the Panthers and Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Jerry Vance learned they will meet all new, but familiar opponents in their district games for the next two years.

The Panthers will now be playing Bandera, Boerne, Comal Canyon Lake, Fredericksburg, and Taylor in 4A Division I Region 4 District 14. That list is missing longtime rival Burnet and it comes as a surprise to a lot of Panther supporters and Coach Vance.

“Coach (Kurt) Jones and I were very surprised when we opened the packet and saw we were in different districts,” said Coach Vance.

The even bigger news is that Liberty Hill and Burnet will not be able to play each other in football during the next two years in non-district. The two coaches tried to work it out in their team’s scheduling, but neither team had an open date and could not break their commitments to other non-district opponents that they had already scheduled.

There is a good possibility that Liberty Hill and Burnet would meet in the Bi-district round of the playoffs, but as far as playing each other during the regular season, that is not a possibility right now.

“Coach Jones and I were positive that the UIL would put us and Burnet in the same district, so we didn’t even look at scheduling each other in a non-district game as a possibility before,” Coach Vance said.

Burnet will play in District 15 for football with China Spring, Gatesville, Lampasas, Robinson and Waco La Vega.

According to Coach Vance, the playoffs in Region 4 could be tougher on the Panthers because of the talented teams that they could potentially face in Bi-district and Area.

Coach Vance added that he has not gotten a chance to watch film of the new teams that will be in District 14. He said that once he watches film from their past seasons and gets some information on kids they have on the sub-varsity levels, he and the Panthers will have a better idea of what to expect for the next two years.

The district realignment also makes traveling to away football games harder on the players, coaches, and fans according to Coach Vance. Even with the loss of Brownwood and Gatesville from their district, the Panthers will still have few long bus rides when they play district away games over the next two seasons.

In basketball, the travel for the Liberty Hill teams should be easier with the loss of Brownwood and Gatesville and the addition of Salado and Taylor. The familiarity of the teams will also make the transition easier.

“It’s nothing new for me,” said Coach Boren. “Even the kids who were in Liberty Hill played (Salado and Taylor) back in junior high. I like being in Region IV as opposed to being in Region I. The travel is closer and therefore better. In the playoffs, we do not seem to travel as far either.”

“I like being in Region 4,” said Coach Kirschner. “Taylor is still down, but they’re working to get better. We saw Salado in their tournament and they will be a good team. I feel we lost two good teams, but replaced them with teams that we’ve seen in the past.”