By KEITH SPARKS
In the wake of long-time Liberty Hill athletic trainer Charles “Doc” Harrington’s retirement, another Harrington has taken over.
Melissa Harrington, wife of Doc Harrington, will step into her new role as Head Athletic Trainer in July, once her husband’s contract has officially been completed.
In the meantime, Melissa will continue to work with the baseball and softball programs throughout their respective playoff runs while Doc makes sure his duties have been fulfilled and his successor is fully prepared to take over.
“Doc is trying to coach me up, because there is a lot of stuff that I’m having to learn how to do,” she said. “Between transportation and the correct answers for the coaches when they say ‘Hey, we need to do this.’ I’m just learning what they’ve done and what the right answers are to make sure the coaches and the kids get the same care and the same abilities to take care of kids. I’m really just trying to learn the Liberty Hill way, which is a pretty good way, I’m finding out.”
Harrington’s first athletic training experience took place while she was a student trainer attending Odessa High School. After graduating, she moved on to serve as a student trainer at the University of Texas at El Paso, moved back to Odessa High School as the Head Athletic Trainer, then to McNeil High School in Round Rock as an Assistant Athletic Trainer, then to Cedar Ridge as their first Head Athletic Trainer before coming to Liberty Hill as an assistant in 2016.
As an assistant this year, Harrington’s responsibilities were tied more heavily to girls’ sports and indoor sports. As she transitions to Head Athletic Trainer this summer, her focus will shift to football.
Although she’ll bring a different perspective to her new position, Harrington is certain that not much will change after the transition. The focus, she said, will always simply be about “taking care of kids.”
“Really nothing is going to change, because we’re just going to take care of kids,” she said. “That’s the main focus. There will be some administrative stuff that I will do and things like that, but we’re just going to take care of kids. That’s the main focus.”
Harrington said timing was the biggest factor in her move from Cedar Ridge to Liberty Hill. As the Liberty Hill coaching staff was set to undergo some changes of its own, an opportunity opened up for her to join newly appointed Head Football Coach and Athletic Director Jeff Walker in a new era for Panther athletics.
“I think we can grow together,” she said regarding the timing of both her and Walker’s arrivals. “It’s not just me learning somebody’s way. I mean, yes, I’m going to learn his way and he’s going to learn my way, but we can grow together.”
Harrington has known Walker for 10-plus years, as she spent time with some of the Liberty Hill coaching staff during her husband’s 15-year tenure with the Panthers. That, she said, has contributed to her excitement and high expectations moving forward.
“I’m excited,” she said. “I’ve known Coach Walker since he was here the first time. I’m excited about continuing on the foundation that Coach (Jerry) Vance and Doc have built, and I’m just excited that Coach Walker and I get to do this. It’s a weird coincidence, because Coach Walker learned under Coach Vance and I’ve learned with Doc. It’s kind of cool that the people that we’ve learned from, now we get to take over and hopefully go out and do the community proud.”
One of the biggest differences Harrington has noticed between Liberty Hill and her previous schools is the top-of-the-line resources provided to her by Liberty Hill ISD.
“I feel like here that I have the resources to take care of our kids,” she said. “Some people don’t understand, when you don’t have resources, some of the things you’re not able to do for kids.”
Another big difference, she said, is her time. Unlike her previous schedules, she now has time to dedicate to parents and coaches, in addition to the kids she’s taken care of for so long.
“They’ve made our schedule to where we have time to take care of kids, but I also have time to call parents,” Harrington said. “We had athletics every single period of the day (at McNeil and Cedar Ridge), so I didn’t have time to call a parent when I needed to, because I had another kid with something else that was more emergent. They’ve made our schedule to where we can take care of kids, we can take care of parents, and we can take care of coaches, and I think it’s a vital part to take care of all three.”
Between now and the beginning of football season, Harrington and the Liberty Hill ISD human resources team are working on hiring an Assistant Athletic Trainer.
“It’s a blessing that they allowed us to do (the hiring) earlier, so that we can get the cream of the crop, per se, versus waiting until June and July when you may not get your first choice,” she said of the hiring process. “We’re very fortunate that they’ve allowed us to do that pretty early. We’re working with human resources right now to finalize that.”
Whoever is hired into the new position will focus on indoor sports and girls’ athletics, as Melissa did in her short time as an assistant, while she shifts her focus to football and other outdoor sports.
Harrington is arriving at Liberty Hill during what is arguably the peak of the athletics department’s success, as a whole, as the volleyball team and girls’ basketball team made state tournament runs this season, while the softball and baseball teams look poised to make deep playoff runs of their own. The timing, she said, can only be explained by divine intervention.
“All I can say is that the good Lord put me in this place, and I’m excited to be here,” she said. “They’ve built such a wonderful program here that we get to focus on taking care of kids, and that’s such a blessing.”