Hankins retiring after 25 years in LHISD
By KEITH SPARKS
After 25 years as Head Softball Coach at Liberty Hill High School, Charice Hankins has announced that she is walking away from the diamond. For somebody who has dedicated more than half of her life to the game of softball, the transition to retirement hasn’t come particularly smoothly.
“I’m already bored after a day, so I’m not really sure what I just did,” she said with a laugh just a few days after announcing her retirement.
Her comment was tongue-in-cheek, but the root of it was not far from the truth, it seemed.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t know,” she said regarding the reasoning behind her retirement. “It’s one of those things that people always say, ‘Well, you’ll know when it’s time,’ but to tell you the truth, I don’t know. I don’t even have an answer. I don’t really know why now.”
After mulling it over for a bit, Hankins pinpointed family as the biggest reason for her retirement, specifically mentioning her nieces’ sporting events that she’s been forced to miss out on during her time as a coach.
“I’ve spent a lot of time (coaching softball), and I’ve loved every second of it, but I’ve got nieces, I’ve got family, I’ve got sisters that have kids that want me to come watch them play, and I’ve never been able to do that,” she said. “I’ve given 27 years of my life to other people’s kids, and I think that something just started tugging on me, thinking ‘Oh, maybe I should go see the kids in my family for a while.’”
Hankins also mentioned that the timing behind her retirement had a lot to do with the confidence she has in assistant coaches Kristen Brewer and Carlos Garza. With Liberty Hill’s potential jump from Conference 4A to 5A looming in the distance, Hankins wanted to make that transition as easy as possible for Brewer and Garza, giving them at least one year of 4A competition to prepare.
“I’m leaving at what I think is the height of my career,” Hankins said, “which is hard, but I think it makes the transition easier. I wanted to make sure that when I left, Brewer and Garza had a chance to get their feet wet before we go 5A.”
Hankins will remain in Austin, where she’s lived in the same house for more than 17 years, and plans on making the familiar commute to Liberty Hill often to watch the softball team that she helped build from the ground up.
“I’ll come watch the kids play, because there are lots of kids that I love dearly,” she said. “I’ll definitely come and watch and be a supporter. Twenty-five years is right about half my life. It’s been too important to me for too long not to be there.”
It isn’t the wins or the accolades that Hankins will miss most about coaching softball, but “creating a purpose” for each of the players that entered her locker room during her time as Head Coach.
“I love building kids’ character and creating a purpose,” she said. “I think I’m pretty good at creating a purpose to get kids to buy into to realize how important they are to the system. If everybody can see their importance and see their value, the teams are so, so fun to build.”
Hankins admitted that her newfound free time will be tough to fill after spending so much of it on softball for close to half of her life, but explained that she’ll likely spend much of that time working on her physical wellbeing.
“When I first got to Liberty Hill, I was the youngest and the fittest coach,” she said. “Twenty-five years later, I’m the oldest coach on the women’s staff, and I’m not as fit as I used to be. I think I’m going to spend a lot of my time getting back into a healthy mindset. I’m just going to focus on trying to make me, individually, better.”
Hankins said she’s already turned down a number of offers from other schools hoping to add her to their coaching staff. She did admit, however, that she’s going to have to find something to keep her occupied after she takes a few months to focus on herself, though she has no clue what that might be.
“I’m probably going to be bored, so I’m going to have to do something,” she said. “I’ve lived my whole life starting the day with a bell and ending the day with a bell. I’ve decided I’m going to try to take three months just to kind of focus on me and my health, then I don’t really know what the next journey’s going to be. I’ve already had a couple coaches call me and say, ‘Hey, will you come be my JV coach?’ I quickly said no, because if I was going to stay in coaching, I would have stayed at Liberty Hill.”
As the longest tenured coach at Liberty Hill, Hankins has seen huge growth, not only in the school district, but in the city as a whole. To her, the most rewarding aspect of that growth has been the evolution of her teams from one to the next, as evidenced by the dozens of photos on the school website and in the softball locker room.
“On my Liberty Hill softball page, my pictures go all the way back to ’94,” she said. “Every year, in our softball locker room I have the history of the program on our wall. We have 24, 25 years of teams, and they kind of build off of each other. Every year, it’s gotten better and better and better and better. It’s been pretty cool to watch that evolution.”
In a coaching world that so often sees turnover year after year, Hankins was one of the few that finished where she started. According to her, that was part of the plan from the beginning.
“I knew I wanted to be a coach when I was in sixth grade,” Hankins said, “and I knew when I became a coach that I wanted to be a coach that stayed in one place, because I wanted the kids I coached to know I was in the same place. I wanted to start my career and end my career in the same place, because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to be able to have kids come back, or possibly their kids, come back and play.”
As she thought about what she wants her legacy to be, Hankins referred to a number of posts she’s received on Facebook following her retirement announcement. Her Facebook page was immediately flooded with posts from former players sharing memories and congratulations, some of which dated all the way back to Liberty Hill’s inaugural softball team.
“I think that I want my legacy to be that I created a safe place for kids to learn to love the game,” she said. “That I gave them tools to be the best that they can be, not only in softball, but in the game of life. The things that we teach, not only is it affecting softball, but it’s affecting their decisions every day. My big thing was always to be the best you can be. Be the best teammate you can be. Be the best daughter you can be. Be the best sister you can be. Be the best student you can be. Your job is to make people better, and I think making other people better around you makes you an even better person. That’s what we’re here for.”
Hankins is ending her career on a high note, calling it quits after the Lady Panthers’ first State Championship appearance and an undefeated district season.
She’ll continue to work with assistant coaches Brewer, Garza, and the Liberty Hill athletics department over the next few months to help with the transition from one coach to the next. Her Liberty Hill ISD email address will be active until the end of August, officially signaling the end of an era for Liberty Hill softball.