Gary Orr basketball copy

The Hartselle graduate was a part of seven state championships as a player and coach. Orr was an All-State tournament selection on the school’s first ever boys basketball state championship team in 1971. He was an assistant coach for state championship teams at Johnson in boys basketball in 1987 and at Hartselle in football in 2011. A Hartselle girls golf run of four state titles in 2009-2012 came with Orr as head coach. Orr led Hartselle girls basketball for 14 years with four Morgan County Tournament championships, five area championships, three trips to the Northwest Regional and one trip to state.

Hartselle Tiger legend

Gary Orr left his mark as a state championship player and coach

By David Elwell
The Decatur Daily

Late on a Saturday night in February of 1971, Hartselle’s Gary Orr stood at the free throw line in what is now Coleman Coliseum at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

Orr and his teammates at what was then called Morgan County High School held a precarious two-point lead with just 33 seconds left in the Class 3A state championship game vs. Colbert County.

The sophomore guard took aim and calmly hit both free throws to give the Tigers an insurmountable lead and led to its first ever basketball state championship with a 59-53 victory.

Just a few years later Orr would take aim on a coaching career that would lead to decades of success, including six more state championships and induction into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame.

“Lothian Smallwood was our basketball coach at Hartselle,” Orr said. “After a couple of years of playing for him, I got the idea that coaching was something I would like to do.

“I’ve been fortunate to be around some really good coaches and athletes. I have so many fond memories.”
In 1987, Orr was on the coaching staff at Johnson High in Huntsville when the Jaguars won the boys Class 6A state championship.

In 2011 when Hartselle won a football state championship, Orr was an assistant on Bob Godsey’s coaching staff.
It was Orr who was head coach when Hartselle’s girls golf put together an amazing four-year state championship run from 2009-2012 led by Arin Eddy and Heather Nail.

Orr also coached Hartselle girls basketball for 14 years before retiring in 2022. His Tigers won four Morgan County Tournament championships, five area championships, advanced to the Northwest Regional three times and made one trip to the state finals.

“Gary had been coaching in Huntsville for several years and wanted to come home to Hartselle,” Hartselle’s Glenn Thompson said. “It was a great move for Gary and Hartselle because he’s meant so much to the school, the athletic program and our community.”

Orr started school at Morgan County Training.  When integration led to the decision to close the school for Blacks in 1969, Orr and some of his friends decided to go ahead and transfer to Morgan County High in the fall of 1968.

“There were no issues in making the move,” Orr said. “We all knew each other. It was no big deal. My cousin Charles Orr was the first Black to play sports for Hartselle.”

Two years later, Orr had the opportunity to make an athletic impact as a Hartselle Tiger. He was expected to be a key player coming off the bench on the 1970-1971 basketball team.

The star player for Hartselle was the 6-foot-6 Charles “Boonie” Russell. He was considered one of the top players in the state.

Orr’s role changed early in the season when two teammates went down with injuries. His playing time grew until he eventually became a starter.

Hartselle got rolling in late January. The Tigers won the Morgan County Tournament with wins over Austin, 71-54, Priceville, 64-55, in overtime and Cotaco, 68-59, in the finals. After a regular season loss to Athens, 64-59, on Feb. 5, Hartselle would win its next seven games and bring home the state championship trophy.

“After winning our area tournament, we had to play Austin for the regional championship in Fairview,” Orr said. “We won (55-51). That was the fourth time we beat Austin that season. I don’t think anybody has ever beat Austin four times in one basketball season.”

The state tournament format in Tuscaloosa had eight teams showing up to see who could win three straight to become state champion. Hartselle opened with wins over UMS Wright from Mobile, 80-28, and Union Springs, 72-60. That set up the championship game with Colbert County.

The finals featured a battle of the big men with Russell going against Colbert County’s 6-9 junior Leon Douglas. The two would later be teammates at Alabama. Douglas won the scoring battle that night with 35 points to 23 for Russell. Orr scored a season high 20 points.

“Boonie had a great game and took care of the inside,” Orr said. “The rest of us took care of the outside. Coach Smallwood’s game plan opened up the outside for us to hit some shots and we did. Plus we played some really good defense.”

Russell received tournament MVP honors. In the three games, he scored 86 points and had 49 rebounds. Orr scored 46 points. He hit 18 of 30 field goals and was 10 of 10 from the free throw line.

Unfortunately for Orr and his teammates the championship success did not carry over for the next two seasons. Both seasons ended with losses in area tournament championship games.

Orr finished his career with 816 points. That’s fifth best at Hartselle behind Brody Peebles (3,049), Russell (1,189), Dwain Keel (1,128) and Charles Jarrett (903).

The playing career for Orr continued at Calhoun Community College in both basketball and baseball. His coaching career started on the youth level.

“My first coaching job was a girls softball team one summer,” Orr said. “I also coached a lot of rec basketball. Larry Slater was the recreation director and I learned a lot from just being around him.”

After getting his teaching degree at Athens State, Orr landed at Johnson in 1983. In his first season, he coached the boys freshmen basketball team to a 21-0 record. Those freshmen were seniors on Johnson’s state championship team.

In 1999, Orr was back at Hartselle helping in a variety of roles for different sports. Two of his favorite memories were the 2011 football state championship and the girls golf state championship streak.

“The football state championship was huge because we had been knocking on the door for so long,” Orr said. “Bob Godsey finally got us through the door.

“The golf was fun because it was a great group of kids. The first one was really special because the oldest girl was a ninth grader and the youngest was in the seventh grade. Those girls had a great work ethic.”

Orr’s 14 years as girls basketball coach saw the program become one of the best in the state. His teams had five 20+ win seasons in his last seven years.

“Coaching against Gary was always a hoot,” former Brewer coach Ricky Allen said. “He was a defensive wizard and would aggravate you to death with something new every game. I loved competing against his teams.”

Two of Orr’s top players were Moriah Taylor and Masyn Marchbanks. They both scored over 2,000 points in their careers. Taylor was a four-time All-State selection. Marchbanks was a three-time All-State selection.

“Coach Orr was so successful not because he knew the X’s and O’s of the game, but because he took time to develop a relationship with each of his players,” Taylor said. “He developed us on the court as well as off the court.”

Taylor played in college at Georgia State and West Florida and hopes to play pro ball overseas.

“Coach Orr is always striving for ways to be better,” Marchbanks said. “He’s the most humble person and coach I’ve ever been around. I loved playing for him.”

Marchbanks just finished her second season at Samford.

Just because Orr is technically retired doesn’t mean he is finished coaching at Hartselle. Last fall he was a volunteer assistant football coach.

“Sports is in my blood line and I enjoy it so much that I don’t know if I ever will completely walk away from it,” Orr said.

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