Saying goodbye – Coach Gary Orr leaves a legacy
By Russell FryeGary Orr has prowled the Hartselle sidelines as a head coach and an assistant for more than 20 years, and over that time, he has left his mark on Hartselle High School.
In February he announced his retirement following the Lady Tigers’ loss to Hazel Green in the Northwest Regional Tournament. “There is a lot that I will miss in retirement,” said Orr, “but it is game day and being around my players that I will miss the most.”
Before coming home to Hartselle, Orr coached at JO Johnson, where he served as head coach of the boys’ basketball team. During his time at Johnson as an assistant and head coach, the Jaguars won a state championship and advanced to the Final Four on four other occasions. “One of my favorite moments before coming home to Hartselle was winning a state championship at Johnson,” said Orr. After leaving Johnson, he returned to Hartselle and began building a legacy in the Tiger athletic program, coaching in multiple programs as part of multiple championship seasons.
Orr took the reins of the Lady Tiger basketball program following a successful run by Greg Adams. While serving as head coach of the Lady Tigers basketball program, he also served as a football assistant under coaches Bob Godsey and Bryan Moore. As a football assistant, he helped lead the Tigers to a 15-0 record and a state championship in 2011.
That is not the only state championship he helped bring home to Hartselle. He led the Hartselle girls golf team to four consecutive state championships, from 2009-2012. He also coached two-time state champion Arin Eddy, who won the individual state championships in 2012 and 2013, and Heather Nail, who won the state championship in 2011.
“Being a part of the state championships and getting to the Final Four with both the boys’ team and the girls’ team here at Hartselle gave me memories that I will cherish,” Orr said. It is on the basketball court where he will be remembered the most. He built the Lady Tigers into a powerhouse in north Alabama. His teams won five area championships, played in three Northwest Regional finals and advanced to one Final Four.
His fingerprints could be seen almost immediately on the Lady Tigers program. His teams were going to be hard-nosed, defensive teams. Over the years, opposing teams feared playing the Lady Tigers and Orr. They knew it would be a hard-fought game against a well-coached basketball team.
As tough as Orr has been on his players over the years, he has loved them just as much, taking pride in the successes of his players on and off the court. Orr said he has coached more than a hundred girls in the Hartselle program and has seen a good number move on to play a sport in college. In addition, a handful of his players have become teachers and coaches, including Alice Anne Glasgow and Kayla Key Harbin. Glasgow has coached with Orr for the past two seasons, while Harbin, who played four seasons at Faulkner, began coaching at Sparkman this past season. He has also coached two 2,000-point scorers and Division I signees in Moriah Taylor, class of 2019, and Masyn Marchbanks, class of 2022.
Taylor helped lead the Lady Tigers to three area championships, three regional finals and one Final Four before signing with Georgia State University. “Playing for Coach Orr was one of the best experiences of my life,” said Taylor. “He cared about every single person on the team, and he pushed us all to be our best on and off the court. I’m beyond grateful to have gotten to play for him. He did an amazing job preparing me for college basketball, and that’s something I will never forget.”
Marchbanks, who just finished her senior season, played for Orr for six seasons, starting during her seventh-grade year. “Coach Orr has been a big part of my life since I was 12 years old. His belief in me has helped me believe in myself along the way,” said Marchbanks. “I’ll carry that with me for the rest of my career. He cared for his players like they were his own. He’s a man of principle whose focus was to build our character, not just our athletic ability.”Marchbanks has signed with Samford University in Birmingham to continue her basketball career.
Freshman Gracie Hill, who has played the past two seasons for Orr, said he “taught me so many lessons as a basketball player. He taught us never to be satisfied and always keep pushing and never give up because you can achieve any goal you set your mind to.” Freshman Mary Frances Itsede said she was first impressed by Orr in fifth grade when she would attend games. “I saw Coach Orr and knew I wanted to play for him,” said Itsede. “It’s been such an honor to be a part of his last group of girls.”
Orr has also left his mark on the administration and staff at Hartselle. For the past several years, Orr has worked with principal Dr. Brad Cooper, athletic director Pat Smith and boys’ basketball coach Faron Key. They all said they appreciate Orr and his approach to his players and the community.
“Coach Orr is an amazing coach and an even better person,” said Cooper. “We are a better place because of Coach Orr. He has impacted many student lives during his tenure, and we are very appreciative of his countless hours of hard work.” Cooper said Hartselle students are encouraged to leave a place better than it was before they arrived, and “Coach Orr has certainly set that example.”
Smith, who has worked closely with Orr over the years, said he is thankful for the time Orr has given to Hartselle High School and the athletic program. “His record was outstanding, but the positive impact on the girls’ character and lives is even better,” said Smith. “He always cared about those he coached and always wanted to help them be better people.” Key has seen Orr’s handiwork up close on the court for the past eight seasons – especially the impact Orr made on Key’s daughter Kayla. “Coach Orr has served in so many roles here at Hartselle High. He’s coached girls golf, football and basketball and approached them all with the same energy and attention,” said Key. “He served as a terrific mentor to all the young people he’s coached.”
When it comes to X’s and O’s, Key said Orr always did a great job preparing his girls for games and putting them in a position to win. Orr grew up in Hartselle and has spent most of his life here. “It is a privilege to call Hartselle home,” said Orr. “It has been great to give back to the community and school I grew up in.