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Hill gets a Hall pass
A school year is drawing to a close and Sequim High School math teacher Larry Hill has a room half-full with students scrambling to finish test retakes.
“That’s pretty typical. I’ll have 10 or 15 kids in here three nights per week,” Hill says. “That hour after school is pretty important.”
Hill is a numbers man, so it doesn’t take a long time for him to do the math: 36 years as an assistant or head basketball coach, nearly 10 league titles, eight state tourney appearances, all at Sequim High School.
While his nomination to the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame isn’t a total shock — “It’s more for longevity,” Hill says — it did put the SHS hoops fixture on the proverbial spot.
“I was a little embarrassed,” Hill says, a half-smile, half-grimace. “I just don’t see myself in the same area code as those guys.”
Hill joins five other assistant coaches and three head coaches at the WIBCA’s induction ceremony at the Tacoma Elks Club on July 24 (for details or to RSVP, call Dave Dickson at 360-201-5218 or e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Other assistant inductees include Tim Gilmore (Centralia), Larry Mollerstuen (Centralia), Mike Reid (North Thurston), Howard Thoemke (Joyce, Central Kitsap, North Kitsap, Olympic, North Mason) and Bob Petrosik (Stanwood, Pe Ell). Head coach inductees are Dennis Bower (Onalaska, WF West and Northport), Bill Hawk (Muckleshoot, Enumclaw, White River, Battle Ground) and Bill Ward (Yelm, Tumwater).
Hill has taught all 36 years in the Sequim School District — eight at the middle school and the rest at SHS — and began coaching with an assistant position under head coach Rick Kaps in 1977.
A bit of coaching advice Kaps had for his assistant stuck with the 58-year-old Hill to this day: “Coaching is 10 percent what you know and 90 percent getting along with kids.”
Hill got to see the importance of that statement as he worked with Kaps in the Sequim Gym Rats youth program for a dozen years, ran it himself for another decade and has operated the Sequim Youth Basketball program since 2004.
Apparently, that work and dedication has made an impact. Hill says he’s heard from several players since his nomination was announced.
“It never really dawned on me all the connections you make with young men,” Hill says.
Art Green, who played for Hill in his senior season in 1991 and wound up working beside Hill for several seasons as an assistant, wrote a letter of recommendation to the Hall of Fame committee.
“If you were to ask me what I think is the most important aspect of coaching, I would not say the Xs and Os,” Green wrote in his recommendation letter.
“It’s about helping young boys become men and be a productive citizen for our society. Coach Hill did exactly this and helped me understand myself, set personal goals, and supported me well beyond my few years of playing for him.”
A winning tradition
Hill grew up on a hay-wheat farm in Goldendale and played prep basketball for Kaps.
After earning degrees at Washington State University, Hill joined Kaps in Sequim where for 12 years (1977-1978 to 1988-1989) the two took a successful Wolves program and made it even better. In that span, Sequim won five Olympic League titles and played in the state tourney four times. That run included a 20-0 regular season, No. 1 state ranking and second-place finish at state in 1987-1988.
Kaps retired in 1989 and Hill took over, earning six West Central District tourney appearances in his first seven seasons before being let go following the 1999-2000 season, after a string of five losing seasons.
“It (being a head coach) was hard on my family,” Hill recalls. “October through March, they didn’t know who I was.”
Hill stayed on to help new coach Brian Roper take the Wolves to the state tourney and earn an eighth-place finish in Roper’s second season (2000-2001). In Roper’s six seasons, the Wolves went 81-41. It was Roper who suggested Hill for the WIBCA Hall of Fame bid.
Hill took over after SHS head coach Matt Thacker resigned partway through the 2006-2007 campaign and led the Wolves to a state 2A tourney appearance. “The way it worked out, I felt really good about the way it ended,” Hill says.
There was conversation, Hill says, about keeping him on as a head coach after that. But he didn’t want to be in charge with his son, Evan, joining the squad.
“I’m sure I would have stepped on toes. I didn’t want it to come back to him,” Hill says.
Back in his assistant role, Hill has helped current coach Greg Glasser to 81 victories, five district tourney berths and two state berths, including sixth place in 2012-2013. “I’ve had really great people to work with (and) I’ve been a part of really great coaching staffs,” Hill says.
Still, it mildly surprised Hill when someone called Sequim a “power” in the Olympic League.
“I never thought of it that way,” he says. “Our teams were always competitive (and) I think we’ve had a good reputation.”
The key to Sequim’s basketball success, he says, is establishing that youth program. Currently, Sequim Youth Basketball boasts between 200 and 220 players, plus another half-dozen tournament teams in the upper age levels.
Perhaps that’s what helped Hill be a part of more than 450 Sequim High victories in the past three-plus decades.
“Watching him through the years in the youth program … he was there beyond coaching,” Green says. “He’s a positive coach. He believes in the players and lets them play. He trusts them.
“And,” Green adds, “he’s still going.”