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A legendary career: Vining leaves coaching as one of Hall County's most successful

POSTED: March 14, 2013 10:35 p.m.

For many of the great basketball moments in Hall County history, Seth Vining played a major part. He coached both the East Hall boys and girls to a pair of state titles, along with leading the ascension of the Lakeview Academy boys team and making it a regular playoff qualifier in Class A the final nine seasons of his career that ended with a recent first-round playoff loss.

With the decision to retire made before the season even started, he wraps up his 39-year career with 745 wins — all in Hall County — and was the man behind the boys basketball dynasty at East Hall he guided starting in the early 1990s and continued when he handed it off to his former assistant Joe Dix.

In addition to the four state champions, Vining led 10 teams to the state semifinals, won 11 region championships, captured 15 Lanierland titles and made 26 trips to the state playoffs.

“I’ve been very blessed to have my wife Cathy with me every step of the way, great assistant coaches and four very supportive schools with the administrations, parents and students,” Vining said.

Vining leaves the game as a high school basketball coaching legend and one of the winningest in Hall County history. Along the way, he was on the Vikings’ sideline for a long stretch of the East Hall-Gainesville rivalry and many classic battles.

He coached countless players that went on to have success in the college game. The final leg of his career, Vining transitioned Lakeview Academy from a mediocre program into a school that won more than 20 games twice and its first region championship on his watch. Everywhere Vining went during his career, he had success.

“Coach Vining set the standard for basketball in Hall County,” said Sharon Clarke, a member of Vining’s East Hall program that won back-to-back state titles in 1979 and 1980. “He’s so basketball smart and passionate about the game.

“We never felt like we would lose with him as our coach.”

Vining has had a profound impact on Clarke’s life. Her son, Tyler Ward, went on to play for Vining at Lakeview Academy.

The legendary coach is hesitant to say which players that he led were the best. That’s fair since so many played a role in his 17 seasons with more than 20 wins (six straight at East Hall from 1999-2004). Likewise, it’s tough for Vining to pinpoint which team was the most talented.

Some of Vining’s fondest memories are the squads that exceeded expectations. In 1981, his East Hall girls program ran all the way to the state finals, despite losing key players in the program that was coming off of back-to-back state titles.

Then in 1986, Vining’s first season as the Johnson boys coach, his team managed to top Brookwood and South Gwinnett for the region title, despite finishing 4-19 the year before he took the position. In 1995, he coached East Hall to five wins against Gainesville.

At Lakeview Academy, he coached the program to its first region championship in 2008.

“I look to him as a mentor and refer to coach Vining as my living legend,” said Sylvia Akers, who was a standout for the East Hall girls state championship programs. “I know coach Vining has had an impact on so may peoples lives and always stands up for what is right in the game.”

Vining never envisioned coaching for so long when he started at East Hall in the fall of 1974. He didn’t even coach basketball until his second year as an educator. When Vining and his wife Cathy arrived, unfamiliar with Hall County upon taking jobs at the school, he was a baseball coach and an assistant with the football program. He also would coach tennis and softball at East Hall.

Out of college and after a student-teaching position in Kingston, Jamaica, Vining decided to send out a resumé to every school district in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina with at least three schools. East Hall called and the Vinings jumped at the opportunity, accepting teaching jobs.

Vining spent three years early in his career coaching the Gainesville College women’s program from 1983-1985.

The greatest run of success during Vining’s career came between 1993-2004 with the Vikings boys, winning just shy of 300 games in that 12-year span. During those seasons, he coached players with prolific careers such as Chezley Watson, Antione Whelchel, Mark Causey and Matt Causey, among others.

Vining believes one of the turning points after not making the playoffs in either of his first two seasons was a region tournament victory against No. 1 Gainesville that secured a spot in the state playoffs. Back then, only two teams made the playoffs from each region.

East Hall also had to compete in the same region against scrappy programs from Lovett and Franklin County. East Hall won 30 games in a season twice under Vining, and a career-best 31 victories in the Vikings’ 2003 state championship season.

“At East Hall we were very fortunate for years to have such a strong tradition and there was another group of talented players coming right behind,” Vining said.

Vining says there were special players and teams that accompanied his entire journey at every stop. He says the decision to retire in 2013 was something he came to peace with during the season. He says there’s plenty of activities to stay busy doing, like time with family and following sports, that life after retirement should remain fulfilling.

“I’m comfortable with my decision to retire and my family is comfortable with my decision,” Vining said. “It’s been a great career and I’ve been very blessed.”


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