Interactive program builds hype for basketball, swimming, and wrestling teams.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Liberty wrestlers show some of the moves they make on the mat during the Liberty Late Night event Tuesday, Nov. 20, at Liberty High School.The Liberty Falcons enjoyed their most successful football season in history this year. While they weren't state champions — eliminated in the quarterfinals, by the second-ranked team in the state — they won the Pacific Conference and two state playoff games, no mean feat.

But the season is over, and as football, soccer and volleyball fade into memory, winter athletics are getting underway.

Led by a contingent of coaches, students and administrators, Liberty kick-started the basketball, wrestling and swimming seasons Tuesday, Nov. 20, at Liberty Late Night 2018.

The event started last year as a means of building excitement for the winter sports season.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Liberty's Aiden Maloney attempts a dunk during the Liberty Late Night event Tuesday, Nov. 20, at Liberty High School."It's an event to help build community and support for our winter sports," said Liberty principal Greg Timmons. "We have events tonight designed to create a positive experience, and based off of last year, it has been. ... We hope it to continue to be a great night for the school."

Liberty head boys' basketball coach Brian Martin started the event last year, intending it to become an annual tradition along the lines of Kentucky and Duke's Midnight Madness, an event in which a team opens its first official practice to the public — often combining it with a pep rally and other fan-friendly activities.

Last year, Martin's version was a basketball-only event that drew 875 fans. This year, however, the coach decided it would be even better with a wider spectrum of appeal.

"It's grown from a basketball thing to incorporating all the winter sports: boys' and girls' basketball, swimming, and wrestling," said the coach. "It's great for winter sports. Going beyond basketball makes it so much more inclusive, so more people will come, and it's a great kickoff."

This year's event provided free food for students, music, interactive games and demonstrations by each of the sports represented. In addition, all three of the winter sports programs were able to introduce their teams to the students, their parents and local youth participants who were welcomed — and, at times, allowed to participate with their older brethren — with open arms. Martin hopes that interactive component will lead to excitement and further support from the community and, most importantly, from the kids who rub shoulders with these athletes on a day-to-day basis.

"There are many things that pull kids in different directions now, and I and many people here would love to see more kids come to the sporting events," Martin said. "They go to football to hang out with their friends and have a good time. Well, they can do that inside at basketball games, and I'd love to see more of that. I think more things like this can only be good."

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Liberty's Livia Knapp rides the back of teammate Maliah Jobe as part of a relay race during the Liberty Late Night event Tuesday, Nov. 20, at Liberty High School.
The night started with an introduction, then moved quickly into activities such as relay races, shooting and dunk contests, and a wrestling exhibition that included demonstrations by team members of moves like the High Cradle, Bulldog and Fireman's Carry.

Portland's Jam'n 107.5 radio station was on hand to spin the rap and R&B hits, and even coaches got involved in the action, including an assistant wrestling coach pushing head coach Eric Givens two lengths of the gym floor, head-first on a skateboard, in a competition against members of the Liberty swim team.

And Martin wasn't alone in structuring the night and its many activities, as this year, he got invaluable help from students as part of their marketing and leadership classes.

"What's really cool is that the marketing and leadership classes really run this thing," said Martin. "They created a structure as to how they're going to set it up, then put leads in place and figured out a way to market it to the elementary and middle schools. So it's been a great project for the classes and I've been so impressed with how they organized themselves and took responsibility for it."

Falcons junior basketball player Tyler Rockwell said he enjoyed the event from last year, and he was hopeful that this year's football success — in addition to Liberty Late Night — would be a springboard to his team's success on the hardwood.

"It's a great night and good to have a bunch of people come out and support Liberty," Rockwell said. "Our coach has been talking about carrying the energy from football into our year, so I'm looking forward to having more fans and more people coming out, and big energy tonight."

"It's a showcase, but the biggest thing that I think is important about this night is that it brings our kids together," said Givens of Liberty Late Night. "It tells the kids we're all 'our school' and 'our team,' and that's been a real push for us over the last five years. We try and support each other."

The Liberty boys' basketball team kicks off its regular season Friday, Nov. 30, at 7:15 p.m. at Westview, while the girls' team hosts West Salem at 7 p.m. that same night.

The swim team's first action is a dual meet with Sherwood next Thursday, Dec. 6, at 3:45 p.m. at the Shute Park Aquatic Center, while the wrestling team will compete in the Tyrone S. Woods Invitational at Oregon City High School this Saturday, Dec. 1, starting at 9 a.m.

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