Campus trail a place to call home

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By Scott Akanewich

Finally, the Liberty Hill cross country squad has a place they can truly call home.

Right on campus.

After either practicing at the junior high or running on concrete parking lots and rubberized tracks at the high school, now there is a very viable alternative in the form of a 1.2-mile running trail that traverses the campus and provides the Panthers with the opportunity to train on the same type of terrain they compete on without having to go anywhere.

All courtesy of the Liberty Hill Cross Country Booster Club, who made the vision a reality once the club was officially formed in March 2019, said president Heather Johnson.

“We had a meeting and asked the coaches what some big dreams and plans they had and a running trail at the high school was on the list,” said Johnson. “In May, we began to do some research to see if this was something the high school and district would allow and to get an estimated cost so we could have a fundraising goal.” 

The entire concept became more and more of a no-brainer the more the idea was considered, she said.

“During the school year, the cross country team would run on the track, in the parking lots and behind the baseball fields, so a dedicated trail with lights would be much safer,” said Johnson, of the course which also includes a shorter one-mile route. “Plus, a trail would allow them to know how far they’re running.”

According to head coach Kim Holt, the trail is exactly what the doctor ordered for her squad – especially when Mother Nature intervenes. 

“It’s great because when it rains we can still run on the trail,” said Holt. “In the past when we didn’t have a trail and it rained on our long-run days, we didn’t have a place to run, so we had to adjust our workouts. Now if it rains, we can still run on the trail and it won’t be running in the mud like in the past.”

Indeed, the going is now much smoother as the surface of the trail is mulch, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg as far as the planning and coordination that went into making the plan a reality, said Johnson.

“It was surprisingly a much easier task than expected,” she said. “Coach Holt asked the district and the idea was approved.” 

From there, the plan began to unfold – but not without some serious generosity, said Johnson.

“As we began getting ideas for where exactly the trail should be and how much this might cost, (LHISD Trustee) Clint Stephenson was asked for his advice, seeing how this is something his company does,” she said. “Soon after this, Clint began working with his contacts and was able to get the mulch for the trail donated by Arrow Roll Offs and Recycling. He and Amber (Stephenson) provided the labor and equipment for the installation of the mulch – the estimated cost for all of this would’ve been about $50,000. The booster club did pay for all the lights and poles for the lights around the retention pond, the smaller solar lights around the baseball field and a few other areas of the trail, which was approximately $5,000.”

As far as the design of the layout, Holt said it was a collective effort on the part of the entire coaching staff.

“The other coaches and I sat down together and looked at the landscape around the school and suggested a path we thought would work and it’s pretty much what it is today,” she said. “There may have been some minor adjustments, but the trail is awesome.”

Johnson said none of it could’ve been possible without the dedication of everyone who gave of themselves to the cause.

“We have amazing parents that donated their time to help install the lights and we’re very grateful for Clint and Amber and know this wouldn’t have happened this quickly without them. Many people helped with this project and that helped make it a much easier task than expected. Knowing these kids now have a dedicated space to run has been worth it all.”

Other past and present booster club board members who were involved with the efforts are Kim Webb (past vice president), Reagan Russell (current vice president), Amber Stephenson (treasurer) and Michele Miller (secretary).

Cross country runners aren’t the only ones who benefit, said Johnson.

“Other groups such as track and soccer can use the trail to run on, so it’s definitely benefiting the entire school,” she said. “Also, I know both kids and adults used the trail over the summer, so it’s also benefiting the community.”

In addition to the trail, the booster club is also on point concerning some of the other needs of the team, said Johnson.

“Last year, we were able to pay for a charter bus for the runners that went to the regional meet in Corpus Christi and our hope is to be able to provide this each year,” she said. “The students and coaches both appreciated and it was a much more relaxing and enjoyable ride than one of the yellow school buses. We’ll also be budgeting money each year to help with any future repairs on the trail or with the lights as needed. As the coaches see things that can improve the program, they bring them to us and as we can, we help them out. We definitely look to the coaches and athletes for what they need so the program can continue being successful. We also help out with the Liberty Hill Cross Country Invitational each year and host the hospitality room for coaches during the meet.”

The boosters have also organized events such as team dinners and tailgating parties before Liberty Hill home football games, which earned them a $2,900 award from the Panther Pit Crew for the continued enthusiasm and participation of both athletes and parents.

Holt said the presence of the club has worked wonders for the betterment of the program overall.

“The booster club is great because they’re always there to help and support our kids,” she said. “Like helping with our home meet and raising money to help pay for things like the timing company and medals and awards. Not to mention helping get a charter bus for the kids to go to regionals last year.”

Johnson added the rapidity in which the trail was completed remains difficult to believe.

“The idea was proposed in March of 2019 and by last fall, the kids were able to run on the trail,” she said. “We were able to install some small solar lights around part of the trail, so most of it was usable in the early mornings last fall and we were able to install more solar lights around the retention pond this summer, so the entire trail is now usable even for early-morning practices. To have this all completed so quickly was truly amazing. My son (Cade) is a senior and when we began discussing this trail at the end of his sophomore year, I didn’t expect it to be something he would ever get to run on as a student, but he was able to use it both his junior and senior years. We’re very grateful for the donations and the volunteers who helped.”

Anyone who would like to donate to the Liberty Hill Cross Country Booster Club can send a check to the high school or use PayPal (paypal.me/LHXC).

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