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Ballinger coach Lipsey putting Bangs friendships on hold ahead of district title clash

Stephen Garcia
Abilene Reporter-News

BALLINGER — Coach Chuck Lipsey has plenty of fond memories from his time at Bangs.

Lipsey had his share of wins during seven seasons with the Dragons, and he said he still talks with people in town.

But Lipsey has made one thing clear this week — they're not friends until Friday's game is over.

Lipsey's Ballinger team is host to Bangs in a game that will decide the district championship. Coincidentally, the Dragons haven't won a league title since Lipsey roamed their sidelines.

"We had good years, good kids and people at Bangs when I was there," Lipsey said. "That's one place that I'll never forget. I really enjoyed my time at Bangs. But I'm not there anymore.

"I just want it to be a good, hard-fought ballgame and the Bearcats to come out on top."

Chuck Lipsey, right, reacts on the sideline while coaching at Bangs in 2010.

'Rivals, not friends'

Lipsey took over at Bangs in 2008 following five seasons at Whitewright. The Dragons won their last outright district title that year, finishing 9-3 overall. That set in motion a 50-31 run under Lipsey that extended through 2014.

The stretch included consecutive third-round playoff trips in 2012 and 2013 with J.T. Newton at quarterback. Newton, a 2014 graduate, is in his second year as an assistant coach at Bangs.

After watching film Saturday, Newton called his former coach, whom he talks to about once a week. The reaction this time was a bit different.

"(Lipsey) answered the phone and was like, 'What are you calling me for? You know we ain't friends this week,'" Newton said with a laugh.

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Lipsey also joked about flipping over a photo of the two from Newton's high school days.

"He said for this week, since we're playing each other, we're rivals, not friends," Newton said. "He said he's going to take that picture and turn it upside down on his desk for this week."

Ballinger coach Chuck Lipsey talks to his team during a break in a scrimmage against Anson at Tiger Stadium in Anson on Aug. 20.

Once the game clock runs out Friday, the pair will be able to talk freely again — whether that be about football, hunting or just life.

"He had a huge impact on my life," Newton said. "Not only on the football field, but off the football field as well. He is a very likeable guy. I've never heard any bad words about Coach Lipsey. A lot of that has to do with his character and who he is as a person. He's taught me a lot through that as well, not just through football."

Bangs turnaround

Bangs shared the district title with Ballinger and Merkel in 2010. It's the last time the Dragons have won at least a piece of the league crown, but they're in position to change that.

Bangs has rolled to its first 7-0 record since 2005. A win Friday would snap the district-championship drought, and it could become an outright title with a victory in the finale Nov. 6.

It's already the most wins in a season since 2013.

"The mood around town is great," Newton said. "That's all you hear about, everybody talking about Bangs Dragons football. And that's what Bangs is about, the whole community coming together and cheering on Friday nights."

Battling the likes of Cisco and Wall, Bangs didn't win a district title with Newton as starter. But the quarterback credited Lipsey for getting the most out of the Dragons, who twice fell to Eastland in the third round.

"We had a bunch of dudes that loved football, and we were coached right as well," Newton said. "We just really got after it. We didn't have the best athletes, we just played fundamental football. Fundamental football gets you a long ways. That's one thing that Coach Lipsey has always been very good about."

Ballinger coach Chuck Lipsey explains a play to his team during Thursday's scrimmage against Ballinger at Tiger Stadium in Anson on Aug. 20, 2020. The Tigers open the season at Winters while the Bearcats travel to Jim Ned next week.

No detail was ever too small for Lipsey, who's now surely using that to find a way to beat Bangs, too.

"Coach Lipsey, he's one of the best coaches that I know," Newton said. "He was always strategizing. He was always trying to come up with this one key part that will just get us over the top. Every minute of the day, he was trying to figure out another way to be successful."

District title 'showdown'

Ballinger has had plenty of success itself this season.

The Bearcats are 7-1 overall with a matching 3-0 district mark. The team's win total has increased each year under Lipsey, who is in his fourth season.

There has been similar improvement at Bangs, where coach Kyle Maxfield is in his third year. The Dragons went 3-7 his first season and followed with a 6-5 record in 2019.

"I think Kyle's done a great job over there," Lipsey said. "I think they got better last year, and they greatly improved this year. I'm proud of him. I'm proud of the people over at Bangs, and I wish them luck every week. But I'm not going to wish them luck this week."

Lipsey said he's glad Bangs is undefeated, adding to the allure of the de facto championship. He told his players it's the type of game they'll remember "the rest of your life" — especially if the Bearcats win.

"It's kind of one of those games that as a player you want to play in and as a coach you want to coach in," Lipsey said. "Kind of figured it was going to be this matchup back before the season ever started. It's all kind of worked into a showdown. We're excited about playing it."

But above all, Lipsey is proud of the connections he's making with his players, just as he did at Bangs.

"The relationships you build when you're there are probably the most important thing," Lipsey said. "Sometimes that might be more important than the wins. It all kind of comes together."