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A legend leaving the game
Gainesville girls coach Manson Hill stepping down after 35-year career
Gainevsille High coach and teacher Manson Hill will be retiring after 20-plus years coaching multiple sports at the school. Hill has won multiple state titles for the Red Elephants in basketball.

There comes a point in a coach's life when he needs to step away from the game and give back to the people who supported him throughout an illustrious career.

Gainesville High's Manson Hill has reached that point.

After a 35-year coaching career that resulted in four state titles in girls basketball and two in girls golf, Hill has decided to step out of the classroom and away from the sidelines to spend some quality time with his wife Mary.

"Coaches' wives are unbelievable and every good coach appreciates a wife who understands all that's involved with the profession," said Hill, who coached at Gainesville for 22 years. "She's been great and has had my back for a long time. I want to have her back for a while."

It's been a long time since Hill has been able to actually do anything outside of teaching and coaching.

He started his career with a four-year stint at Johnson High, moved to North Habersham for five years, then came to Gainesville and won his first state title in 1994 before taking a job at Central Cabarrus High (N.C.).

After three years in North Carolina, Hill returned to Gainesville to win three more basketball titles - 2001, 2003 and 2004 - and two girls golf titles, not to mention a state finals appearance in tennis in 1994.

That's quite the extensive career for someone who didn't think he'd stay in the profession for that long.

"Growing up, all I wanted to do was fly a jet," said Hill, who majored in math and education while attending the University of Georgia on a tennis scholarship. "I lost my parents at a young age, and the people who stood by me were coaches and math teachers. It was a natural thing to try that.

"I sort of got into it to give back," he added. "I didn't see (the long career) coming."

While Hill will be primarily remembered as the girls basketball coach, he also spent 11 years coaching golf and 18 coaching tennis, the only sport in which he never won a state championship.

But that won't dampen his legacy, especially not after he turned the Lady Red Elephants into one of the elite programs in Class AAA.

"Manson knows basketball, but to me, and even more important, he knows his players," said Rebekah Henson Rico, who played for Hill in 1997-98 and 1999-2000. "I think that is a large part of why he has been so successful.

"He was a coach who required respect by his dedication and investment in the program, having high standards for character, academics, and team play," she added. "He ran his program by showing the team what it means to in fact be a team."

Despite coaching seven All-State players, including two All-Americans in Tasha Humphrey and Mahogany Hudson, Hill is most proud of instilling that team concept in all his players.

"I feel really blessed in that all seven of the All-State players, we never had the stars who only cared about their stats," he said.

Boy did he have some stars though.

First there was Hudson, a former Miss Georgia Basketball who helped lead Gainesville to two appearances in the state semifinals. Hudson, who had a 6:1 assist to turnover ration during her senior season, also coached alongside Hill for several years.

"Mahogany was the quintessential point guard," said Hill of his former star who went on to play at the University of Florida. If you don't have a great point guard, you have trouble."

Then there's Humphrey, who led the team to back-to-back state championships and starred at the University of Georgia before being selected in the first round of the WNBA draft.

"At her time (in high school) there were no players who played like Tasha," Hill said. "She was amazing because she could play three or four positions. She was so versatile and physical."

Humphrey thought Hill was pretty amazing too.

"The basketball aspect is not where Coach Hill influenced me the most," Humphrey said. "Growing up without a father and since a young age, I looked to Manson as a father figure. He provided me all the tools necessary that I needed to be equipped with to excel in every aspect of life. He taught me the importance of responsibility, leadership, and most importantly persevering through times of adversity."

That father figure called her one of the first transcendent female basketball players, and said her play, along with every other girl to wear a Gainesville jersey, exemplified his philosophy on girls basketball.

"We were one of the first programs to treat them as pure athletes," Hill said. "We ran stuff most people didn't think girls could do, and that led to our success."

Hill believes he wouldn't have had that success elsewhere.

"Coach (Bobby) Gruhn told me that the athletes at Gainesville High School can do amazing things," Hill said. "I don't think there's ever been a more correct statement in my life."

But now he's moving on with his life. Instead of preparing for opponents, he'll be preparing dinner.

Instead of figuring out how to attack an opposing defense, he'll be figuring out what's wrong with the faucet. And all that is perfectly fine by him.

"I'm looking forward to doing the little things," he said. "If we get a leaky faucet, I'm going to be the one fixing that, not her."

In between his household duties, and a trip to Hawaii to finally show his wife "the big waves," Hill still plans on attending basketball games, and he's not quite counting out a return to the bench.

"I know for at least a few years, I'll come watch, and I may get back into it," said Hill, who joked with Gainesville boys coach Todd Cottrell about being his assistant. "As long as the players I know are there, I'll come back and watch some games.

"I'm looking forward to being a fan."

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