Hart’s influence on LHHS sports will be long-remembered
By Keith Sparks
During his tenure as Liberty Hill ISD’s Superintendent, Dr. Rob Hart saw hundreds of games across all sports at every level, from tennis to football and everything in between.
From his arrival 10 years ago until now, as his December retirement date approaches, Hart has witnessed the community’s growth firsthand, and the growth of the athletic department along with it.
“It’s been amazing,” Hart said. “It really has. This whole landscape has changed so much, especially now over the last couple years. Every time you turn around, there’s a new subdivision or the subdivisions are building out.”
As the Liberty Hill community has grown, the number of students in Liberty Hill ISD has nearly doubled during Hart’s tenure, and what was once a 3A powerhouse has remained competitive through the transition to 4A Division I.
“We’ve added a lot of kids over 10 years,” Hart said. “There were a little over 2,400 when I got here, and we’ll be between 4,200 and 4,300 when we open in August, so it’s been a tremendous growth. We were 3A and now we’re Division I 4A and have been for the last couple of cycles.”
The biggest change in the athletic department over that time period, according to Hart, took place with the girls’ teams. Girls’ basketball and softball have both played for a State Championship over the past two years, and volleyball has made it to the State Tournament on multiple occasions.
“Probably the biggest change, the biggest growth in our athletic program, has been the girls’ sports,” Hart said. “They’ve just really come along in the past five years. They’ve been State contenders in everything. The football program had been good when I got here, and it still continues, and the basketball programs, girls’ basketball was one of the first ones that really started pushing it, then volleyball has been to State three of the past four years.”
Hart also oversaw the addition of a boys’ and girls’ soccer program in 2013, both of which have appeared in the State Tournament during their five-year existence.
“When I first got here, we didn’t even have soccer,” Hart said. “We didn’t even have a facility for it, so that was one of the things we were going to put in as soon as we built a new high school. Here we are five years down the road and we’ve been to the State Tournament once in boys and once in girls, and actually played for the State Championship with the boys the first year we had it.”
Despite rampant growth within the district, Hart said he has continued to focus on making sure no student can remain anonymous. In order to do that, his attention has to be spread equally between every sport, extracurricular activity, and academic competition. Finding that balance, he said, has been easy.
“It was really easy for me,” Hart said. “I’ve been that way ever since I’ve been an administrator. I think every part of extracurricular and academics plays a big part. They’re equal. As we grow, I’ve leaned on that a lot, because in my opinion, what we don’t want to do is get to the size where anybody can become anonymous. I’ve said this for 10 years. We don’t want any kid to be anonymous, so we encourage their participation in as much as they can. That just kind of helps roll over into the preparation and the drive and the push for success that we have all the way around. I think each program benefits the other.”
Liberty Hill’s athletic success can be attributed to many things, but the stability in regard to coaches is among the most important. While most schools cycle between coaches every few years, the Panthers have been fortunate enough to have a number of coaches last for more than 10 years.
“We’ve had success, and nobody wants to leave a winning program,” Hart said of that consistency. “Success breeds success, then it just kind of perpetuates and you just keep on going. Superintendents also don’t usually stay very long, and I’ve stayed 10 years. That’s pretty much unheard of.”
Hart was, however, forced to make some important decisions following the retirement of Liberty Hill’s long-tenured head football and softball coaches, but luckily for him and the school board, those decisions were easy.
Second-year Head Football Coach and Athletic Director Jeff Walker’s previous experience as an assistant coach at Liberty Hill High School and his knowledge of the Slot-T offensive scheme that Vance employed gave him a leg up on other applicants.
“He was the perfect fit and I knew it,” Hart said of Walker. “We brought him back as a teacher and I was impressed with his enthusiasm and his intensity. He knew our system. We didn’t need to change offenses. With the success we’re having with that, there wasn’t any reason to change that, so I really wanted somebody with expertise in that Slot-T offense, and he had it more than anybody. That’s why I thought he was a perfect fit, and the intensity is really impressive.”
Second-year Head Softball Coach Kristen Brewer had a similar advantage during that coaching search, considering her 10-plus years of experience as a Liberty Hill assistant under Coach Charice Hankins.
“She’d been there so long and she’d been doing a lot of the coaching herself,” Hart said. “She was in charge of all the pitchers and everything, and she was making those decisions, so the experience there and the familiarity with the kids, the support from the community and the kids made it pretty obvious that she was the one.”
Each and every one of Liberty Hill’s athletic programs has been successful under Hart’s leadership, even with the aforementioned retirements of two incredibly successful coaches, and Hart is confident that he’s leaving the athletic department in better shape than it was when he arrived.
“The success speaks for itself,” Hart said. “The mark of a good superintendent is that you left it better than it was when you got there, and I can confidently say that.”
Hart said he plans on taking a one- to two-year hiatus from work following his retirement, but don’t be surprised if he makes an appearance at some Panther sporting events during that time period.