Liberty Hill athletes claim title, medals at Special Olympics Meet

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By Dana Delgado

With consistent teamwork and strong individual skills, the Liberty Hill Special Olympics delegation created quite a buzz at this year’s Area Basketball Tournament by dominating the competition with a “magical performance” and making a name for itself in the process.

It all started at a mid-February tournament in Round Rock, which was held to determine division placement for the Area Tournament. In only its third year of competition, the Panthers finished a perfect 6-0 despite being shorthanded when the flu forced a number of athletes to be sidelined.

“It was amazing,” said Angela Meade, Liberty Hill Head Basketball Coach who is in her first year as Head of the delegation. “We looked really, really good. Coaches from other teams had a lot to say to me about how well our team played. After this tournament, I told myself: ‘I think we’ve got this (the Area Tournament title).’”

Meade brings a wealth of experience to the sidelines. She coached the team last year, previously coached at the Junior High, and was a standout athlete in both high school and college. She is presently an elementary behavior specialist with LHISD.

Seeded in the top division and sporting their new official uniforms, the varsity basketball team, which has been practicing since early January, entered the Area Tournament with a lot of confidence after their performance in Round Rock. They didn’t disappoint; although, they wavered only briefly. Coming as no surprise to their coaches and fan base, the Panthers swept the competition to win the Area 3-on-3 Tournament Championship held Feb. 23 at Texas State University. The squad made a remarkable comeback after falling behind to a strong combined team from Dewitt and Lavaca counties in the title game.

Coach Meade said she called a timeout to settle the team down. What followed, said Meade, was amazing teamwork including sharp passing, noteworthy communication between the players and tremendous fan support resulting in a close four point victory.

In the semifinal game leading up to the championship game, the Panthers downed Bastrop in another competitive game.

“It was a great way to wrap up our basketball season,” said Meade. “We are so proud that buttons could pop and we are walking around like peacocks. They were exceptional.”

Members of the Liberty Hill Basketball Championship team include Kevin Ellet Graves, Gabe Callaway (captain), Walker Raney, Cassidy Sandlin, Elisha Garcia, and Bryan Mapel.

“This team came together in the last few weeks and clicked at the right time,” Meade added.

In other Area events in San Marcos last weekend and before a large crowd, the Liberty Hill Special Olympics delegation won a host of honors in the Individual Basketball Skills Competition.

Dusti Stauffer won gold while teammates Emily Roberts and Will Askew (captain) earned silver and Elijah Shelton took home a bronze medal.

Meade said the success of the athletes could not have been possible without the help of Jami Shelton, skills’ competition coach who is also a library assistant at Liberty Hill Elementary School.

“Coach Shelton has a big heart and helps me with a lot of odds and ends,” said Meade.

Athletes in this competition were evaluated on several skills including passing, speed dribbling and shooting from six different positions on the basketball court at Goodnight Middle School.

“It’s not an easy task,” said Meade. “It was impressive how far they have come. At the beginning of the season, Will wouldn’t even touch the basketball and Dusti, through the power of encouragement, worked so hard. We are so proud of them. It was a great weekend to be a Panther!”

With basketball over, the athletes now turn to track season.

“We’re on this high and I can’t wait to start track,” said Meade, who expects 25-30 athletes and welcomes volunteers.

The Liberty Hill Coach said practices begin March 4 and continue every Monday until they compete at the Rotary Meet in Round Rock which traditionally welcomes nearly 3,000 track and field participants from across the region. The Area Meet, where athletes can qualify for the state meet, follows in May at Leander High School for two days of competition. Nearly 2,500 athletes are expected to compete in this event.

“I have high expectations of my kids,” said Meade. “They are athletes, but you have to have a relationship first. Win or lose, they always know they are loved!”

Individuals and organizations interested in supporting the local Special Olympics delegation can contact Angela Meade at ameade@libertyhill.txed.net or check the district website for the Special Olympics link. Information on becoming a volunteer is available at www.sotx.org/get-involved/volunteer/.

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