Parents cherish State experience

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By Lance Catchings

The Liberty Hill Runnin’ Panthers had a fantastic season, ending with a trip to the State Tournament at San Antonio’s Alamodome.

Behind the leadership of seniors Cade Cole, Parker McCurdy and Jareck Naylor, the Panthers not only created a lifelong memory for themselves, but for their families, as well.

Naylor’s parents, Cecilia and David, were just as excited as their son once the Panthers earned the bid to the State Tournament.

“As a family, we were overwhelmed with excitement, and we just could not believe it once they qualified for State,” David said. “We knew all the kids had worked extremely hard, and after their loss last year in the playoffs, they set this as their goal to make it to the final. I think they thoroughly achieved that goal. From a parental standpoint, I think we were all excited for the kids and were behind them. We tried to keep the kids uplifted the entire time, and the hard work they put in paid off. They got to where they wanted to be.”

David said the experience from the stands is unlike any other basketball game he has gone to.

“The excitement you feel from the stands is just unbelievable,” he said. “My wife kept telling me she was nervous the entire time.”

As the buzzer rang out in the final seconds on Saturday and the Runnin’ Panthers had come up just short of a championship, David said there was no reason for the players to hang their head.

“I know they are probably a little disappointed at how it ended, but I don’t think they should be disappointed at all,” he said. “They faced a very good team and they finished as the number two team in the state, and they earned that spot to play in that final game. They probably couldn’t have played any better, and they fought hard. I think Liberty Hill’s team this year is the best team in class 4A. I know the final score may not have shown that, but in my opinion, Oak Cliff isn’t any better than Liberty Hill.”

After the game, David had a message for his son he thought was important for him to hear.

“My son was upset, and I could see it from the stands,” he said. “When he came off the floor after the awards ceremony, I grabbed him, hugged him and said, ‘Son, you’re a champion.’ I told him there was nothing he did wrong. He did everything the right way, and that game could have gone either way at the end. I knew he was upset, but don’t think you’re not a winner, and I wanted to make sure that he heard that.”

McCurdy’s mother Amy also had a memorable experience in the stands over the two-day tournament. McCurdy hit a game winning three-pointer in the semifinal game, and his mother said it was an indescribable feeling watching her son do it.

“Watching Parker hit the three-pointer to win the semifinal game was probably the most emotional experience I have had as a basketball mom,” Amy said. “Having all the other parents and fans around us going crazy was just the best experience. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to a game. Our kids don’t ever give up. They did it together and they all had their big moments. Sometimes it was the seniors, and sometimes it was the sophomores.”

Entering the Alamodome and watching her son play the game he loved for his high school for the last time was an emotional experience for the longtime basketball mom. Parker’s junior season was cut short when he had to have his appendix removed just as the Runnin’ Panthers were headed into the playoffs.

“It was an incredible experience watching my son and his teammates play in the State Championship,” Amy said. “There was so much emotion in that game, and they weren’t getting very long breaks off the court. From all the emotions I felt, I was exhausted, so I could only imagine our players. I knew they had it in them, and they made their goal of playing as many games as possible. I never counted them out, and it was a fight all the way until the end. It was an unbelievable game.”

After Saturday’s loss, Amy said the players not only showed their toughness and talent on the court, but also helped to unite a community off the court.

“After the game, I knew he was hurting and the loss was a very big deal to him,” she said. “We met in the hallway, and I just hugged him and told him how proud I was of him. These boys gave us all a great experience. The whole team was an inspiration to the town. It brought families together, and all the moms on the team had been close the whole year. This team has been the catalyst for so many strong relationships and friendships, which are things that will not end. The season had to come to an end, but the lasting relationships will continue. It was a great season with a great group of parents and coaches.”

Cole’s mother, Michelle, teaches at Liberty Hill Junior High and said the support of the community in the arena all the way back to Liberty Hill is something she was grateful for. She cherished the opportunity to see her son on the championship stage.

“It was an amazing experience as a parent to see your kid on that stage at the State Tournament,” Michelle said. “They have worked so hard, and the community support was unbelievable. Many parents and teachers posted videos and shared them with us of the excitement of our junior high kids gathered watching the game. When Parker made that shot, seeing the kids celebrate that couldn’t be at the game was a great thing.”

Michelle did a little research into the Oak Cliff team prior to the game and said that everyone counted out Liberty Hill except those in Panther Nation.

“Nobody gave us a chance against Oak Cliff,” she said. “I saw in the papers from the Dallas area that they thought that team would beat us by at least 20 points. I was proud of the boys, because they came out and played with heart the whole game and never gave up. In the fourth quarter when Oak Cliff took the lead, our boys did not stop. They fought the whole time, and they showed a determination and team togetherness that was amazing. I knew it was my son’s last game, win or lose, and I was very proud of how he and his teammates played.”

Cade had a promising chance to do well at the state cross country meet this past season, but his plans were derailed due to an injury. His mother said she was grateful he got a second chance on the championship stage.

“Cade, having gotten hurt, was unable to end his cross country season the way he wanted to, and this was one more chance for him,” Michelle said. “A chance to be on the court and play in a championship. After the game, I told him I was proud of him. What an accomplish for he and his teammates to make it to the championship game. They played so hard and no one gave them a chance. I love the way the Liberty Hill community supports the kids. From the sendoff to coming out and cheering, it is neat to have that community support.”
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­All three seniors from the Runnin’ Panthers have left their mark on the basketball program and the Liberty Hill community, and it won’t be soon forgotten.

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