UIL shuts down activities for remainder of school year

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By Scott Akanewich

Ever since March 19, when the UIL announced all sports and activities would be suspended indefinitely due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Liberty Hill athletes and coaches had hope their respective seasons could be resumed.

Now, that hope has been snuffed out.

Initially, the shutdown was supposed to last only until May 4, when practices would resume with the plan being to finish all seasons in their entirety.

However, on April 17 — 28 days after the initial announcement — it became clear it was no longer practical for activities to resume and after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered all schools to remain closed for the remainder of the current school year, the UIL followed suit in officially canceling all springs sports, as well as state championships.

For Liberty Hill athletic director and head football coach Jeff Walker, the move has already had quite an impact – not only on himself and his coaches, but the athletes themselves.

“We were holding on to a glimmer of hope until the announcement on Friday, but now things are definitive,” said Walker. “The announcement hit me hard for our athletes and coaches. Our kids and coaches put so much time and effort into their sports and not being able to finish the season hurts – especially for the seniors.”

Walker went on to say not only was the cancellation the right thing to do, but the entire Panthers athletic program will be affected moving forward – but to an unknown degree.

“I believe it was the correct decision since the health of our kids and community are the priority,” he said. “How it affects us in the future really depends on how long this pandemic lasts. Right now, we’re just taking it week by week.”

At the time of the initial halt to activities, the girls’ and boys’ soccer teams were readying for the postseason, the baseball and softball teams were both in the midst of their regular seasons and the track team was competing with its focus on district, regional and state meets.

Now, it’s all gone.

No longer is resuming ordinary everyday activities a possibility for the Purple-and-Gold – something that is especially agonizing for those who compete, said Walker.

“There’s not a lot you can say. We hope we can be there for them as much as possible and give them whatever support we can,” he said. “Obviously, it’s very sad for both the schools and the athletes that are looking to continue playing. I imagine the disappointment is devastating.”

Walker added the Panthers’ football team may be as affected as anyone due to the important work that goes in during the spring to make sure players are ready when the lights go on in the fall – creating even more of a sense of urgency upon their return to the gridiron – although the playing field will certainly be level.

“Not having a spring is going to make the time we have when we go back much more important,” he said. “Football is not a game you can just go play – there’s a lot of preparation from the coaches and players. Of course it’s disruptive, but everyone in the state is in the same boat.”

Regardless of what the future holds, Walker is confident the entire Liberty Hill leadership staff will always keep the kids they coach and teach at the top of the priority list.

“We have great administrators that always put the student-athletes first,” he said. “I’m sure there will be a lot of new things considered as we work on plans to go back to school and activities. While I don’t know what things will look like, I know it will be centered on putting the student-athletes first.”

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