Georgia town mourns

Keith Legree, the star player on the Statesboro high school’s 1991 State Championship team, has returned to take the place of his mentor coach Lee Hill. Hill’s death of COVID-19 in August 2020 has rocked the city and brought an end to his 44-year career at the school. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Caption
Keith Legree, the star player on the Statesboro high school’s 1991 State Championship team, has returned to take the place of his mentor coach Lee Hill. Hill’s death of COVID-19 in August 2020 has rocked the city and brought an end to his 44-year career at the school. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

COVID-19 deaths, including beloved long-time coach, devastate Statesboro

In four decades as a boys basketball coach at Statesboro High School, Coach Lee Hill had amassed 877 wins and helped shape the lives of countless people.

Hill died of COVID-19 on Aug. 1, after being hospitalized since early June, leaving a town to mourn.

“He was the one person I would say embodied the spirit of Statesboro,” said Mayor Jonathan McCollar. “So when he passed, we truly lost an institution.”

Statesboro Principal Chad Prosser, a 1998 graduate of the school, said Hill’s loss was devastating to all who knew him. His death was also personal for Prosser, who credits Hill’s influence on his own career.

ExploreReturn to the COVID timeline: A year of loss

“He carried so much weight in the community that when I was up for the principal’s position, he offered to do anything he could to help me get it,” Prosser said.

“He was just a caring person.”

Caption
Coach Lee Hill, seen at right with the Statesboro High School’s 1991 State Championship team, won 877 games in his career before his death in August 2020. “He was the one person I would say embodied the spirit of Statesboro,” said Mayor Jonathan McCollar. “So when he passed, we truly lost an institution.” (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Coach Lee Hill, seen at right with the Statesboro High School’s 1991 State Championship team, won 877 games in his career before his death in August 2020. “He was the one person I would say embodied the spirit of Statesboro,” said Mayor Jonathan McCollar. “So when he passed, we truly lost an institution.” (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Caption
Coach Lee Hill, seen at right with the Statesboro High School’s 1991 State Championship team, won 877 games in his career before his death in August 2020. “He was the one person I would say embodied the spirit of Statesboro,” said Mayor Jonathan McCollar. “So when he passed, we truly lost an institution.” (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Keith Legree, then an assistant basketball coach at the University of Detroit Mercy, was at his daughter’s softball tournament when he got the call that Hill had died. It prompted him to consider coming home to Statesboro and the school where he starred on the court on the way to a state championship in 1991.

It was back in high school, during the school’s only championship season under Hill, that Legree had honed his competitive drive.

“Coach Hill didn’t have to get onto us. We got onto each other,” said Legree. “It was so competitive at practice that Coach Hill had to end practices early a lot of times because we were going at it so hard.”

Legree went on to play college basketball at the University of Louisville before transferring to the University of Cincinnati. After college, Legree, who was drafted in the third round of the 1991 Major League Baseball amateur draft, played seven seasons in the minor leagues. He has coached basketball for two decades.

Caption
Keith Legree, the star player on the Statesboro high school’s 1991 State Championship team has returned to take the place of his mentor coach Lee Hill. Legree went on to play college basketball at the University of Louisville and the University of Cincinnati. He has coached basketball for two decades. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Keith Legree, the star player on the Statesboro high school’s 1991 State Championship team has returned to take the place of his mentor coach Lee Hill. Legree went on to play college basketball at the University of Louisville and the University of Cincinnati. He has coached basketball for two decades. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Caption
Keith Legree, the star player on the Statesboro high school’s 1991 State Championship team has returned to take the place of his mentor coach Lee Hill. Legree went on to play college basketball at the University of Louisville and the University of Cincinnati. He has coached basketball for two decades. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

In November, Legree took over for Hill at Statesboro.

“The way I learned the game of basketball was through Coach Hill,” Legree said.

In Statesboro, Legree’s first team finished 19-4. The Blue Devils, playing without three top players because of COVID-19 protocols, were knocked out of the state playoffs in the first round. That will be fuel for next season.

“I reached back to the tough things that he took us through to get us ready for the games,” Legree said of his former coach.

ExploreReturn to the COVID timeline: A year of loss

COVID-19 continues to reel the city of about 31,000 in southeast Georgia. Last year, the mayor said, Statesboro had 57 COVID deaths. But, by the first week of March, total deaths jumped to 92, a spike McCollar attributes to holiday gatherings and the Super Bowl.

“All of those things where individuals were getting together and the virus was being passed,” he said. “So we kind of expected those numbers to pick up, but we didn’t expect for it to hit us like this.”

Caption
Coach Keith Legree’s first team finished 19-4. The Blue Devils, playing without three top players because of COVID-19 protocols, were knocked out of the state playoffs in the first round. Legree says that Coach Hill's competitive spirit lives on in the team. “The way I learned the game of basketball was through Coach Hill,” he said. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Coach Keith Legree’s first team finished 19-4. The Blue Devils, playing without three top players because of COVID-19 protocols, were knocked out of the state playoffs in the first round. Legree says that Coach Hill's competitive spirit lives on in the team. “The way I learned the game of basketball was through Coach Hill,” he said. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Caption
Coach Keith Legree’s first team finished 19-4. The Blue Devils, playing without three top players because of COVID-19 protocols, were knocked out of the state playoffs in the first round. Legree says that Coach Hill's competitive spirit lives on in the team. “The way I learned the game of basketball was through Coach Hill,” he said. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

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