Robin Hines’ steady hand guided GHSA around numerous obstacles

GHSA executive director Robin Hines and wife Kim, along with bulldog Elvis, enjoy the back deck on their home at Lake Hartwell.

Credit: Stan Awtrey

Credit: Stan Awtrey

GHSA executive director Robin Hines and wife Kim, along with bulldog Elvis, enjoy the back deck on their home at Lake Hartwell.

On Dec. 10, 2022, one of the worst officiating blunders was committed during the GHSA’s Class 3A championship game between Cedar Grove and Sandy Creek.

Late in the game, Sandy Creek was credited with a touchdown after its runner clearly was stopped at the 1-yard line, not even close to the goal line. The Cedar Grove coaches and players couldn’t believe it. The fans watching at Georgia State couldn’t believe it. The statewide audience watching the game live on GPB-TV couldn’t believe it either.

But there was nothing that could be done to correct the mistake, which was instrumental in Sandy Creek’s victory.

An hour or so later, Georgia High School Association president Jim Finch, watching from his home in Forsyth, got a phone call.

It was Robin Hines, the GHSA’s executive director.

Finch said, “He’s live up there at the game, and I’m sitting here watching and he said, ‘Let’s get the folks at the table as soon as we can.’”

The state’s decision-makers met after Christmas and quickly hammered out new guidelines that were approved at the next executive committee meeting and implemented for the 2024 championship games.

It was just another instance of the leadership that Hines has exhibited since he became executive director in 2017.

GHSA executive director Robin Hines.

Credit: Stan Awtrey

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Credit: Stan Awtrey

“He’s got a lot of common sense, and he doesn’t allow red tape to slow things down the things he knows that need to move forward,” Finch said.

Hines will conclude his term as the association’s sixth executive director at some undetermined point this fall. He will stay around long enough to help Tim Scott, the retiring superintendent of Dalton Schools, make a smooth transition.

Hines leaves huge shoes to fill.

Steven Craft, the former Fulton County director of athletics and recently named superintendent of Dalton Schools, said, “I think he will probably go down as one of the absolute best executive directors in the history of the GHSA.”

Kirk Barton, the athletic director at Norcross High School and member off the GHSA executive committee, said, “I’ve worked with three of them and, no disrespect to any of them, but Robin has been the best executive director the GHSA has had.”

James Robin Hines, 64, was born and raised in Thomasville. He grew up in the house his father built, played football for the legendary Jim Hughes at Thomasville High School and attended Valdosta State. That’s where he met his wife, Kim, to whom he’s been married 41 years and raised two daughters and a son.

Hines marks off every box possible on an educator’s checklist. He was a football coach, an athletic director, an assistant principal, a principal, an assistant superintendent and school superintendent. That breadth of experience played a role in Hines being hired to run the GHSA.

Kim and Robin Hines, outgoing GHSA executive director, at their home on Lake Hartwell, April 3, 2024.

Credit: Stan Awtrey

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Credit: Stan Awtrey

Until Hines was brought on board, the previous executive directors came from within the organization. Sam Burke was the first executive secretary-treasurer in 1939 and became the first full-time director in 1946. He ruled with an iron fist until he retired and was replaced by the equally authoritarian Bill Fordham in 1976. Fordham was followed by Tommy Guillebeau in 1991, Ralph Swearngin in 2001 and Gary Phillips in 2014.

When Phillips was forced out in 2017, the GHSA decided to find his successor from outside and targeted Hines, who had been retired for about three years. He was keeping busy mentoring new school superintendents and playing music. He and Kim were renovating a home they owned in Sautee when he received a phone call to gauge his interest in the GHSA job.

“I don’t remember who it was, but somebody called and asked if I’d be interested,” Hines said. “I said, ‘Why would I want to do that? People are mad at you all the time. That’s a terrible job.’”

A few days later he got a call from Kevin Kinsler, the football coach and athletic director at Northside-Warner Robins. He encouraged his friend to pursue the job. Kinsler told Hines, “Just turn in your resume, and when the interview comes, if you don’t want to do it, just don’t show up.”

That was enough to pique Hines’ curiosity, and he began to check it out.

“I figured out two things,” Hines said. “The GHSA was in pretty good shape, and Gary Phillips had done a good job. And since the job was open, I had already convinced myself that I was the one that needed to do this job. All of a sudden, I was named and you look up and it’s been seven years that have passed.”

Hines gets high marks throughout the association for his ability to navigate the problems inherent with a diverse group of 400-plus high schools. He is open to opinions from all sides and freely gives out his cellphone number to anyone who wants it.

That act alone shows his willingness to hear other opinions and listen to all sides. Such collaboration – whether it is with the GHSA’s executive committee members or board of trustees or with the Georgia General Assembly – has made Hines extremely effective.

Craft, who worked with Hines as a member of the executive committee, said, “There are plenty of times where he and I may have been on opposite sides, but we would have a great conversation. I would understand where he was at, he would understand where I was, and we’d move forward. It was just a great partnership.”

“Once I’ve made a decision, I move on,” Hines said. “You really have to compartmentalize, and I think my background in leadership roles prepared me to do those kinds of things.”

GHSA executive director Robin Hines is shown on the sideline during the game between Cedar Grove and Savannah Christian in the Class 3A GHSA State Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /


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There were many other challenges along the way.

COVID-19: When the pandemic began in 2020, the GHSA reluctantly canceled all spring sports until more was known about the virus. In the summer, when it came time to make a decision about whether to resume activities – particularly football – Hines spoke with advisers and made the decision to play.

“There was nothing about the whole COVID thing that was easy,” he said. “That may have been the biggest challenge that I’ve ever had to face. We had to figure out what was going on because nobody knew.”

The GHSA adopted a series of rules to help keep players safe and to excuse schools or systems who didn’t want to participate. The fear that games would become “superspreaders” never materialized and, despite an occasional hiccup, it was business as usual.

“I said if you don’t want to play, you don’t have to play. That’s your choice,” he said. “But we’re moving forward, and we were able to get full seasons in every sport, all year long.”

Reclassification: Under his watch, the GHSA added a “multiplier” to help offset any advantage for private schools and city schools – who have more flexibility regarding attendance – and create a more level playing field. While this has worked to some degree, the formula constantly is being tweaked.

Name, image and likeness: Hines helped the GHSA get ahead of the runaway NIL train and established common-sense guidelines for schools and athletes to follow. These are not pay-for-play deals. Athletes can make commercial deals that do not use the intellectual property of the school. Hines is aware of around 40 NIL deals that exist.

“There a guy in Barnesville who owns Mama’s Kitchen, and he had the first NIL deal in Georgia,” Hines said. “He picked one male athlete and one female athlete, and they’d put them on social media, and they get a free meal. He’s a delightful fellow, and he wanted to be the first to do that. That’s really what most of the NIL deals have been.”

Financial stability: Intelligent business decisions have enabled the GHSA to waive dues and cost for catastrophic insurance for its members for five consecutive years. The influx of cash has come from Hines’ decision to embrace the NFHS Network, which streams high school games, and the GoFans digital ticketing format. Both pay a percentage of sales back to the GHSA, resulting in a surge of income. The association is approaching $1 million in ancillary income from outside sources.

“We’re able to serve our member schools, and it doesn’t cost them money,” Hines said. “We’re giving them money back, and that’s a great place to be.”

GHSA executive director Robin Hines plays the keyboard in his music room at his home in Hartwell, April 3, 2024.

Credit: Stan Awtrey

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Credit: Stan Awtrey

Hines plans to slow down and spend more time at the beautiful new home on Lake Hartwell that Kim Hines has transformed into a showplace over the past 18 months. It features a great room with a vaulted ceiling, a gourmet kitchen and a master bedroom that overlooks the lake. There are enough bedrooms to accommodate all six grandchildren, a swimming pool and a cart path which leads to the dock and a pontoon boat that soon will see a lot more activity.

Hines has a man cave on the lower floor. There’s a velvet painting of Elvis and a painting of their old English bulldog Elvis on the wall next to the bar, and the downstairs restroom even features a urinal – a twist he added after seeing it in a friend’s house. But the main purpose of the spacious room is to accommodate his affinity for music.

Charcoal drawings of Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan overlook the musical work area, where Hines can record, mix and produce his own work. He is outstanding on the keyboard – teaching himself to play when he was 30 – and can play any stringed instrument. He has a nice collection of vintage electric guitars and has a bass that originally was owned by Kim’s uncle Bobby Kimmel, a founding member of the Stone Poneys, who helped start the career of Linda Ronstadt.

Hines often relaxes by putting on a musical track – something soulful like The Allman Brothers’ “Queen of Hearts” will work – and plays along on the keyboard while the song pulsates through the stereo-infused room. He enjoys a variety of musical styles but is drawn toward the blues.

He has been in numerous bands over the years, one of whom appeared on a bill with Willie Nelson. Hines has a small, framed copy as a memento and self-effacingly pointed out, “We’re way down near the bottom, but we were on there.”

Soon he’ll have plenty of time to play his music and see more of his family.

“We’ve got all these grandchildren, and everybody lives in the Athens area, so I felt like I was missing out on that,” he said. “Now I’ll have time to enjoy it.”

GHSA executive director Robin Hines can play any stringed instrument. Here he's playing along with a blue track he had recorded.

Credit: Stan Awtrey

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Credit: Stan Awtrey