Liberty Hill powerlifters set to start season
By SEAN SHAPIRO
It’s 7 a.m. on Wednesday and music is rocking from the weight room at Liberty Hill High School.
It’s a mix of rap and hip-hop, with the occasional pop song filtered in. Add in the clink and thump of weights, deep exhales and brief conversations, and it creates an unlikely symphony that can be heard each morning and has become the norm at Liberty Hill.
Most of the time this symphony is building toward athletic achievement in other sports, and most often football.
But from January to March, it’s also home to the Liberty Hill powerlifting team, which opens the season on Thursday at the invitational meet in Burnet.
And, like most sports at Liberty Hill, the team has high expectations each season.
“I want to win state,” Jacob Sanders said. “I finished third last year at regionals, so my goal is to win state. I’m really looking forward to this season and that opportunity.”
Sanders will start building toward that goal with the competition at Burnet this week and Lampasas on Jan. 22. The team will also compete in Lago Vista on Feb. 6 and another to be announced meet on Feb. 13 or 14.
After that regular season schedule Liberty Hill will focus on regionals and state, which will be held March 28 for the boys and March 21 for the girls.
Powerlifting has been a mainstay in Texas, and in Liberty Hill, for a while. But it’s grown in popularity amongst girls across the state.
Liberty Hill has its largest contingent of female lifters for the 2015 season, with 13 athletes on the roster. In 2014, there were five girl lifters, some who have returned this year and helped grow the program.
“It’s really grown by word of mouth,” Liberty Hill powerflifting coach Robert Draper said. “It kind of became known that you don’t have to be a bigger girl to do this. There are weight classes and chances for everyone to compete.
“I’m very excited that we have this many girls on the team this year. It’s really a chance for the team to do well and continue to grow this sport,” he said.
While the athletes have done some in-school recruiting, Draper said the coaches of the girls teams have also helped.
“They recognize that it’s a chance for the girls to continue their strength building and it really helps in the long run for other sports,” he said.
While the girls contingency has grown, the powerlifting team continues to be an extension of the football program at Liberty Hill.
Of the 32 boys on the roster, most are also members of the football team. The required workouts for the football off-season align well with powerlifting’s routine and help drive some of the competitive juices.
“I really enjoy it, it’s kind of become my main sport,” Van Shamblin said. “When I was a freshman I would have never thought there would be an opportunity to basically compete like this in the weight room.”
It’s a unique competition.
Instead of a head-to-head battle with an opponent, it’s boy, or girl, versus a weight.
“I think it’s more of me versus the weight, because that’s what you’re working to lift,” Justin Wilson said. “You look at what others are doing, but you really want to focus on your own lifts.”
Powerlifting meets consist of three lifts – squats, deadlifts, and bench press – with the total weight of the three lifts accounting for a competitor’s final score. Individual scores are then tallied together and added up for the team competition.
“It’s an individual sport but you’re competing to do better for your teammates,” Colton Cunningham said. “You may get individual medals, but those are really what you want to help get team medals for the whole group.”
As a team, Liberty Hill has excelled in the past in squats.
“That’s always been an area we’ve done really well at,” Draper said. “It’s a move that is an important football lift, too, so it doesn’t surprise me. I actually got an email from the Waco Robinson coach last week asking about what we do in the off-season and what we do so well with squats.”
Several of the team members agreed.
Of the athletes interviewed for this story, all of them said their favorite lift was the squat or the bench press. The deadlift was always third on the list.
“You have to do it as part of the meet,” Shamblin said. “Otherwise it’s not really something you look forward to.”
Draper said the deadlift – essentially picking up the weight off the ground – isn’t a strength at Liberty Hill since it doesn’t serve much of a purpose in other sports.
Other than in powerlifting, there isn’t much of a necessity to reach down and lift a heavy weight. That’s why Liberty Hill spends more time on the other disciplines in the offseason.
“It doesn’t really hurt the powerlifting team that much, because we work on getting all three lifts better,” Draper said. “But we’re not going to lament or worry about adding that consistently to the year-round routine because it doesn’t add much for football or another sport.”
But that doesn’t mean Liberty Hill won’t push itself in the difficult discipline, and any success in the deadlift could be the difference as the team seeks out regional, and potentially state, titles.