George Walton Academy girls basketball coach Lori Hines was rummaging through the towel cabinet in the locker room in preparation for the upcoming Georgia Independent Athletic Association state championship game when she noticed something out of place.
It was a red towel stuck back in a corner.
Every year, each girl receives their own towel to use during games. This particular one was left over from 2008, her first year at the helm of the Lady Bulldogs program.
The memories came flooding back. All the brutal loses during that 12-15 campaign, the many days of wondering if she had made the right decision to take the GWA job.
She dropped the faded, wrinkled cloth in the towel bag and took it with her to Macon, where two days later, her team won the school’s first state championship in girls basketball.
“It wasn’t so much a good luck thing as much as it was a reminder of all those years and all those girls that had gone before,” Hines said. “This win was for all of them.”
Hines has been a head coach for over 20 years, 15 at George Walton, and has compiled 342 wins. Her Lady Bulldogs teams have won two region titles, been runner up four times, and appeared in the state tournament 12 times.
But she’d never won it all.
“I know it may sound crazy, but it’s not the highlight of my career,” Hines said of the championship. “I just love my kids so much and love seeing them succeed at whatever they do. Every year, I’m working just to make them better.”
It’s been a roller coaster ride at GWA. After that difficult inaugural season, Hines led the program through one of its best runs in school history, winning 96 games over a five-year span and making the state playoffs eight consecutive years.
But the past several seasons were a struggle as the postseason streak ended and the team endured three straight losing seasons.
“If you coach long enough, you’re going to have your ups and downs,” Hines said. “But you just have to keep coaching just as hard and things will turn around.”
A 22-4 record and state title proves her point.
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