By KEITH SPARKS
Liberty Hill’s Head Football Coach and Athletic Director Jeff Walker has only held his current position for just over a year, but he’s already looking to add another sport to LHISD’s athletic department.
Hint: It requires a pool.
“I had some parents come in and just ask about the possibility, so I said, ‘You know what? I’ll look into it,’” Walker said. “If there’s enough want and I can get it worked out, then we can try it.”
Although it isn’t yet a done deal, Walker is exploring the idea of adding swimming as an official sport at Liberty Hill High School. Enough interest has been expressed by the community that he felt he owed it to them to look into it.
Walker’s first course of action was to send an announcement to Liberty Hill eighth-graders, freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, asking for a response in order to gauge exactly how much interest there is.
“The process hasn’t been going on very long, but I did send out an announcement to the junior high for all the eighth-graders and all the freshmen, sophomores, juniors here asking who would swim competitively and would be interested in swimming for the school next year to come sign up,” Walker said. “I had 18 sign up at the high school, but a lot of those play other sports, and when they find out swimming coincides with that, I’d imagine they’d pick their other sport. There were I think eight at the junior high that said they swim competitively or would like to. That’s without knowing who would be trying to play football and trying to swim and how that works, but I was just trying to see if there’s enough that were interested in doing it, and if there were, I’d be interested in trying to get it started.”
The biggest challenge in starting a swimming team, of course, is coming up with a regulation-size pool, which Liberty Hill doesn’t have. They do, however, know of some in the area that would likely rent out lanes to them on a regular basis, as long as LHISD could figure out how to get the swimmers to the pool and back.
“It’s hard to have a swim team without a swimming pool,” Walker said. “That’s definitely the hardest challenge, but we can rent lanes at the YMCA in Burnet. Some place in Georgetown, I believe, would rent lanes to us, but getting the kids there and getting them back, all that kind of stuff, the logistics of it, is going to be an issue.”
In order to make the process easier on everybody involved, Walker said, at first, Liberty Hill’s involvement may be as miniscule as signing the team up for a few meets on behalf of LHHS while they continue to compete primarily with their private clubs.
“It may be something as small as they’re going to stay swimming with their clubs and just swim with us at meets that we get into or something like that the first year,” Walker said. “I don’t know how in-depth we’ll get with it, but I had enough people interested that I thought I needed to look into it further.”
Walker did say, however, that if they add swimming, he’d prefer not to do it “halfway.” As far as coaching is concerned, they have a couple options. One would be to hire a brand new coach who’s experienced with swimming, and the other would be to find a parent sponsor who would be willing to simply watch over the swimmers at their school meets.
“We probably would have to hire a new coach, or just get a sponsor, one of the two,” Walker said. “Just get a mother that’s into swimming that could sponsor and be responsible for them at meets and stuff like that, if we got into some meets. Looking into a coach would be another option, no doubt. I’d love to get a coach that knows what they’re doing and could coach our kids up. We typically don’t like doing things here in Liberty Hill halfway. If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it and we’re going to do it right. We’re going to do it first class and we’re going to make it work. It’s just the early process of this.”
Some in the community might be asking, “Why swimming?” There are a few reasons, Walker said, one being a relatively high level of interest, and another being that it’s an inexpensive sport to get involved in.
“One, more interest, and two, it’s not a real expensive sport to play and to get started,” Walker said. “There’s not a whole bunch of them, either. It’s not like we’re starting a sport that’s going to have 150 kids out. It’s something that I think we could do on a small scale and try to be competitive.”
Walker also admitted that he has his eyes set on the Lone Star Cup, which rewards schools that are competitive across the board. The more sports Panthers are able to compete in, the more opportunities they have to score points toward the Lone Star Cup.
“It’s a UIL sport, and I want to win a Lone Star Cup,” Walker said. “Any way I can try to get more points in the Lone Star Cup, the better. I really want to give all our kids a chance to compete in their sports and what they do.”
Conference 4A doesn’t currently have swimming districts, so if a swim team were to be created, the Panthers would be forced to compete against primarily 5A teams, as well as other 4A teams that are in the same boat. As of March 2018, some of those 4A teams that have swim teams include Burnet, Waco Robinson, La Grange, Giddings, Dripping Springs, Wimberley, and Leander Glenn, who will move up to 5A in the fall.
Depending on what the UIL sees fit, the Panthers would likely compete in one of two swimming districts. One includes teams from Cedar Park, Hutto, and Leander, and the other includes teams from Georgetown, Pflugerville, Waco, and Temple.