JENNIFER FIERRO • STAFF WRITER
MARBLE FALLS — Sometime today, Larry and Tammy Berkman will climb into one of their family vehicles and make a trek that, when it’s all finished, will cover 421 miles in 6 hours and 49 minutes.
That’s before the couple makes their way back to Marble Falls.
The Berkmans are the proud parents of Marble Falls High School girls basketball coach John Berkman and the proud grandparents of Faith Academy of Marble Falls freshman guard Bailey Freeman.
The Lady Flames (34-4 overall, 9-0 in District 4-4A of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools) crushed the Texas School for the Deaf 47-28 on Feb. 18 to book the program’s eighth trip to the state tournament.
The Lady Mustangs (23-9, 10-3 District 26-5A) defeated Port Lavaca Calhoun 63-58 in the regional quarterfinals Feb. 21 to return to the regional tournament for the fourth time in program history.
That presented the Berkmans with a welcome dilemma.
“We have it all figured out,” said Tammy Berkman as they stood in line to buy tickets for the Marble Falls contest minutes before tipoff. “Bailey will play Friday at 11 (a.m.), and we’ll just drive from Abilene directly to San Antonio.”
Faith takes on Houston Lutheran North at 11 a.m. Feb. 24 in a Class 4A state semifinal at McMurry University, 1400 Sayles Blvd. in Abilene.
Marble Falls faces Corpus Christi Flour Bluff at 6 p.m. Feb. 24 at Dub Ferris Athletic Complex, 8400 N. Loop 1604 West in San Antonio. That contest will be the first Class 5A Region IV semifinal.
While it will be a challenging Friday, Larry Berkman, who is the retired Marble Falls High School boys basketball coach, said the family wouldn’t want it any other way.
“You want to see both,” he said, “and they both want us there. It’s tons of fun.”
Larry Berkman spent 30 years as a high school coach and took a short retirement only to recharge as his grandchildren picked up a basketball. He anticipates another decade or so of attending games.
It means so much to him and his wife that their children and grandchildren search the stands to make sure the two are in the gym, he said.
“We’re older,” he said. “If we can still enjoy John and our grandchildren, it’s really nice. It’s a real treat and pleasure.”
He said it’s a different feeling watching Bailey, the daughter of Lane and Rusty Freeman, than watching John coach or even when he coached his son in the late 1990s.
With his granddaughter, who is still learning the game as an underclassmen, Larry simply enjoys seeing her grow and improve.
“We’re proud of Bailey because she gets to play. She still likes her Poppy,” he joked. “She still looks in the stands.”
With John as the coach, Larry Berkman said he feels every possession, good and bad, and watches the way the younger Berkman interacts with his players, officials, and assistant coaches.
“You’re pulling for every little thing he does,” the elder Berkman said. “He hopes (his players) follow through with it. You’re in it. You’re excited for them.”
Sitting in the stands is more difficult than sitting on the bench as a coach, Larry said, because as a fan, he doesn’t have a direct say on what to tell the players.
“It’s almost a lot more nerve-wracking,” he said. “You don’t know what’s going on. You can’t see the kids’ eyes. You can’t see how they’re responding and paying attention. It’s a lot different than when you’re in the driver’s seat.”
If the Lady Flames win, they’ll play for the state title Feb. 25 at 1 p.m. If the Lady Mustangs win, they’ll play at 3 p.m. in another regional tournament game.
Berkman said the two will decide what games they’ll attend Saturday after the Friday games.
“We’re very fortunate,” Larry said. “We feel like the Lord has blessed our family. He blesses a lot of families, but we’re in a time that it’s our time.”