THROWBACK THURSDAY: Life on the sidelines
By JAMES WEAR
Other than playing in a game against Liberty Hill in 1971 when I was a junior high student at Florence, and years later, in the fall of 1978, when I attended a contest between Liberty Hill and Lometa to watch my niece perform at halftime, I never followed Liberty Hill football until 1984, when I began attending Panther games as sports editor for the Williamson County Express. That was the year Liberty Hill, under the guidance of Coach Charlie Braun, qualified for the state playoffs for the first time ever in school history.
As the decade progressed, I found myself spending most of my autumn Friday nights on the Panther sidelines snapping photos and began meeting many Liberty Hill folks–not knowing at the time that many of those I met I would cross paths with later on in life in a different setting.
Among those was Darla Kemp, a pretty cheerleader whose boyfriend, James Lane, would wind up becoming my brother-in-law in 1988. Not too many years later James and Darla married.
James was a member of Coach Braun’s offensive backfield on the 1987 Liberty Hill football team that would go on to win the district title outright–the first ever for the Panthers (the 1984 Panthers shared the loop title with Thorndale, which defeated Liberty Hill by a single point in the regular season finale).
Clay Cole, the current president of the Liberty Hill school board, was also a member of that team although he didn’t suit up. Clay carried a clipboard on the sideline and I believe he kept the stats for Braun and the other coaches. Of course Clay made his biggest mark in the Liberty Hill athletic scene as a starting member of the Liberty Hill basketball team that twice qualified for the state championship.
Cole and his basketball teammates also earned a bit of fame for being the only high school team to hand NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal a loss during O’Neal’s high school career. It came during the regional final, which was played in Victoria, with the Panthers topping San Antonio Cole by a 79-74 score.
Corby Davis was a member of the Panthers’ starting five that defeated O’Neal and also played football as well as baseball. Davis’ father, Clyde, was a vocal supporter of the Panthers from the sidelines and was a member of the school board at the time. Clyde currently holds a position on the Liberty Hill Planning and Zoning Commission.
I was often joined by a fellow Florence graduate, John “Buck” Love in covering Liberty Hill games and Buck’s son, James, often accompanied us. More often that not, James, an elementary student at the time, lost interest in the game and we’d look over and find him hanging out with the Panther cheerleaders. James, now grown and recently married, admitted recently that he “might have had a crush on some of the cheerleaders.”
James “Buster” Myers was the Liberty Hill band’s drum major back then. Later, after Paula and I married and moved to Liberty Hill, James, son of the late Gloria and Jim Myers, became our next door neighbor.
Others I met or became familiar with during these Friday night games included Louine Noble, the former LHISD school superintendent who I learned was a close friend of my late brother. Ms. Noble gave up a promising career in music to devote her life to education but didn’t give up her voice and would later sing at my brother’s funeral.
The late Don Vickers, who helped run the chains at Liberty Hill home games, always had a kind greeting for us Florence boys. I would learn that he was a close friend of my mother-in-law and that she was the one who taught Don how to dance.
Of course, Don was better known as a guitar picker and singer than a dancer and was on the stage for many benefit dances held in Liberty Hill over the years. Don’s brother, Gilbert, was another friendly face on the sidelines and he assisted Coach Braun for several years, tending to the bumps and bruises that the Panthers suffered on the field of play.
Liberty Hill, of course, was much smaller back then, and after a couple of years of covering football games at the old Panther Stadium, it wasn’t difficult to stand on the sidelines and look back into the crowd and be able to recognize and even name just about everybody cheering the Panthers on. I doubt I’d be able to do such nowadays.