RABBITTOWN — If you happened to wander over to the East Hall gym this past week, you might have thought you were stuck in some sort of time loop.
Dozens of youth players could be seen scrambling around the gym floor; whistles blowing; coaches barking instructions. And standing tall in the middle of it all was legendary Vikings coach Seth Vining.
Vining guided first the Lady Vikings to back-to-back state titles in 1979 and 1980 and then the boys to state championships in 2001 and 2003 before stepping down following the 2004 season to take over Lakeview Academy. He “officially” retired after spending seven seasons leading the Lions.
Vining has been almost a constant fixture over past half-dozen years at virtually every northeast Georgia gym wherever a big game was expected, whether it be the annual Lanierland Tournament or a crucial region contest.
Yet, here he was leading the East Hall Camp as if he never left. That’s because he came back to Valhalla during the offseason to try and help lead a Vikings program that has fallen back to the pack over the past few seasons back to state prominence.
And you know you must have some kind of “influence” when a pair of assistant principals -- Adam Clark and Josh Chapman -- “volunteer” to help run the week-long camp.
“I didn’t really ask them so much as they wanted to do it,” Vining said. “But having them come in and help -- and being two really good former East Hall players as well -- I think means a lot to the East Hall community and for the kids who are here.”
So, has much changed in the seven years since he traded in his sideline view for a bleacher seat?
“Not really,” he said. “The goal is still to put the ball in the basket and try to score. It’s pretty much the same game it’s always been. If you don’t score, you can’t win.”
Whether it was name recognition or just kids wanting to start their own journey to becoming the next Lebron James, the East Hall Camp attracted 70-plus kids from across Hall County and around northeast Georgia.
That brought out a big smile from Vining, who wasn’t exactly known for flashing his pearly-whites too often while on a court. In fact, the youthfulness of Vining displayed during Thursday’s session was hard to ignore.
“I love being out on the court and being in the gym and being around young people who enjoy the game,” he said. “I enjoy coaching and I have stayed involved some over the past few years. But I have really enjoyed being back here in this gym.
“But maybe the best part has been watching our varsity players work with the younger kids. Youth camps I feel are some of the best things we do each year. The (varsity) players get the chance to teach and grow themselves as players and people. The biggest satisfaction I get is seeing them accept the role of teacher.”
While Vining was not altogether pleased to have the focus centered on him, he did offer some early previews of what Vikings fans could expect in the upcoming 2019-20 campaign.
“We’ve really struggled to score in some early practices and scrimmages we’ve had,” he said. “We’re in a tough region where really everyone will probably be better than they were last year. But the expectations will be high, the same from any of the other teams I’ve coached over the years. That won’t change.
“We have great coaches who are buying into what we want to do. It’s going to take some time. Not everything is the same as when I left seven years ago.”
It was hard to tell, though, as Vining wandered into a crowd of players, clipboard in hand, surrounded by a bunch of gold and black, and began listing the next set of drills with all eyes clearly focused on him.