Panthers’ parents’ handbook lays down the law

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By Scott Akanewich

Every Thursday evening during football season, each and every Liberty Hill varsity football player gets a phone call.

On the other end is a Panthers football coach checking up on one of his charges the night before a game.

Doesn’t last long – perhaps a few minutes – just to make sure the player is cognizant of getting proper rest and nutrition.

But, there’s more to it than just what meets the ear on the surface, said Liberty Hill head coach Jeff Walker.

“Communication is critical to what we do here,” he said. “We expect our players to do what’s best for our team.”

Being a member of the Liberty Hill football program certainly comes with an entire set of rules and regulations in order to ensure everyone stays on the straight-and-narrow – a code of conduct of how players on the Panthers’ roster are expected to carry themselves on and off the field, as well as in and out of the classroom.

However, it’s not only the players who are held to a high standard.

Parents are also expected to behave with grace and humility while supporting their sons on the gridiron – something that is laid out in no uncertain terms in the “Panther Football Parent Booklet,” a 15-page document that is accessible on the school’s website on the football page.

Just about everything under the sun is covered as far as how all parties concerned should conduct themselves in the name of Liberty Hill football, but especially compelling is a section entitled “Ten Commandments of Football Parents,” which details what is expected from parents, including areas such as remaining positive, respecting the coaches and their decisions and insisting on good grades.

All good ideas and important tenets for all involved to understand and apply in the correct manner, said Walker.

“It’s been a very good thing,” he said, of the manual which has been part of his coaching doctrine his entire career. “But, 95 percent of our kids will buy into what we want them to do.”

However, there are always those who want to buck the system, said Walker.

“We always have those guys I like to call turkeys,” he said. “Kids who want to skirt authority, not be respectful to teachers and so forth. Earlier in my career, I probably would’ve got rid of them, but then I realized they needed me more than I needed them, so I always get them to walk the line. But, a lot of times, those are the ones who come back years later and thank me because they realize what you did for them in changing their life and doing what was best for them.”

Later on are included such concepts as making sure mothers and fathers don’t live vicariously through their sons, which can often lead to envy of other parents and their sons as a result of playing time and performance. It includes encouraging players to believe in themselves and playing for the love of the game without the pressure of trying to earn a college scholarship.

One particular passage talks about how every parent thinks their son is the best – which, of course is always a heavily-biased and often times, unreasonable view – something that Walker knows he must handle with proper care – while still making his team-first point.

“It’s a fine line and is sometimes the hardest part of coaching,” he said. “But, we always want to have the 22 best players on the field.”

In previous years, Walker and his coaching staff would personally visit each family of a varsity player and present them the handbook, but then he decided there was a more effective way to lay down the Purple-and-Gold law, he said.

“We realized it was better if all the parents got to meet each other,” said Walker. “So, we started to do a group meeting.”

Walker said only one parent over the years has gotten upset with the Thursday-night check-in phone calls and the handbook has been warmly received as not a replacement for parenthood, but rather a supplement in how to be a proper football parent.

Walker knows in order to run a successful program, which not only wins games – but, more importantly produces good, young men – there must exist a bridge that extends from the field house to the residential version – with everyone on board together.

“Great players come from great parents,” he said. “We have great players.”

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