Community supports Panthers as they head to state game

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By Kristen Meriwether

For head football coach Kent Walker, keeping the team on a routine is part of his keys to success. But for the Liberty Hill community, this magical run to the State Football Championship is anything but routine.

Sure, the Panthers made it to State just three years ago. But in that time the district has grown by roughly 25%. New residents mean new fans and new opportunities to support the State-bound football team.

“We have a great community who is very, very supportive of our school district as a whole. Everything we do, our community rallies behind these kids and the staff,” Superintendent Steven Snell said. “It’s important to small towns, especially in Texas. It’s very exciting and it’s cool to see all of our students K through 12 get excited for the boys.”

That support has come in a variety of ways. Residents hang team flags outside to show support on Fridays. Local Facebook groups have been filled with congratulatory posts following each victory. Schools have encouraged students to wear purple and gold on Fridays and the district had early release so fans could make the trek to the playoff games.

The further the Panthers have gone in this playoff run, the more support the football booster club has seen. Since the team punched their ticket to the State Championship last Friday with a decisive victory over Crosby, the booster club received over $3,000 in donations.

The money will be used to help pay for charter buses for the team’s trip to Arlington, hotel rooms and a special team dinner on Wednesday. The booster club was able to provide a scholarship last year and hopes to continue that tradition in 2022.

Local businesses have also been pitching in all season to help provide meals to the team. Farm to Fork is a recently opened Liberty Hill restaurant that features locally grown and sourced non-GMO and organic foods.

They have been offering all Liberty Hill athletes, not just the football team, $5 boxed meals all school year. Chef Amy Schaffner, who owns the restaurant, said the nominal fee covers the cost of food and packaging for the meals.

“We’re a small business. If I could have done it for nothing, we absolutely would have. Basically, we did it for cost,” Schaffner said. “We just want to support our community the best way we can. Helping these kids out, that’s what’s most important.”

Schaffner won’t be able to make it to Arlington for the game, but plans to show it on the two TVs in the dining room at Farm to Fork on Saturday.

“If they want to come in and watch while they eat, we are all on board,” Schaffner said.

Like Schaffner, many in the community are looking at what they can offer to help support the team.

Gerald Lorance purchased a cryotherapy machine in 2016 to help his fellow active duty soldiers work through injuries and fatigue from workouts.

The machine uses liquid nitrogen to create an extremely cold environment that is supposed to help ease muscle tension, rapidly accelerate healing to bruised, swollen or stretched muscles and decrease the effect of delayed onset muscle soreness.

After seeing the success his son Gabriel, a senior wide receiver and defensive back on the team, had with recovery when using cryotherapy, Lorance began to offer drastically reduced sessions to the football players.

Lorance said he usually sets up near CrossFit in Liberty Hill on Mondays and Tuesdays. He said he counts several of the team’s starters as clients.

“We are helping the boys reach their full potential in any way we can, as parents, as community,” he said. “I have two sons in the program, so any way we can help these kids get that added advantage in the recovery process.”

TJ Garza, who owns SKP gym in Liberty Hill, has been training with many on the football team for several years. He uses customized strength and conditioning and speed and agility programs to help athletes reach their peak performance.

His programs are not just about lifting weights, but adding Pilates to help stretch muscles and build core strength. Garza also puts a heavy focus on recovery using ice baths, cryotherapy, and massage.

Throughout the playoff run Garza has been helping the team’s star players recover from the punishing games. On Monday, he had three licensed physical therapists at his gym to offer soft and deep tissue massage.

The soft tissue helps the athletes to relax, get the lactic acid out of the legs so they can feel fresh and ready to practice.

“After 15, 16 weeks of playing, you get tired and your muscles are fatigued and your feet are fatigued,” Garza said.

With full bellies and fully recovered bodies, the football team will leave LHHS on Friday at 8 a.m. The community is invited to support the team by waving banners, flags and cheering them on.

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