Sean Carson, The Union Democrat

The new Tioga High School science teacher is no stranger to the Groveland campus.

In fact, the once-celebrated high school athlete - turned scientist - will teach from the same room where he sat as a student six years ago.

Billy Hilton, 24, will teach science and drama part-time while he completes the last semester of his credential at California State University, Stanislaus.

The 2009 graduate and former Mountain Valley League MVP for basketball, baseball and soccer was still adjusting to campus last week.

"It's strange," said Hilton. "The principal was my high school coach, and my colleagues are my old teachers."

The Big Oak Flat-Groveland Unified School District hired Hilton for one year after he obtained a special permit designed to get professionals working toward a credential into the classroom early, known as a short-term staff permit, said Superintendent Dave Urquhart.

Hilton earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology with a chemistry minor from California State University, Stanislaus, in 2014.

His professional experience includes research of fish feeding behavior at the Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies at San Francisco State University, and sea turtle populations at the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla.

"It's really neat to have someone that's done research in the field," Urquhart said. "Of course, it's always nice to have someone who the community knows is a good person come back and be ateacher … and to have a teacher who can coach."

Urquhart was referring to the reputation Hilton earned as a star athlete for Tioga High from 2006 to 2009.

As a sophomore, Hilton helped take the soccer team to Tioga's first Sac-Joaquin Section title in 2006.

In 2007, he was named second runner-up for The Union Democrat Sports Figure of the Year, in recognition of his achievements across basketball, baseball and soccer. He would go on to earn the paper's now-retired All Area Team award for 2007, 2008 and 2009 for soccer, baseball and basketball.

"He was probably one of the best athletes Tioga ever had. He was kinda one of those hometown hero kinda kids and now he's back teaching … kinda amazing," said Tioga Principal Ryan Dutton, Hilton's former baseball coach.

Hilton continued to excel in athletics at college, where he broke a school record for javelin on his first competitive attempt in 2013. He picked up the sport four months earlier. The record breaking throw of 202 feet was shattered when Hilton threw 217 feet by the end of the season.

Hilton does not currently compete, but said "One reason I wanted to teach was to have opportunity to coach as well and still be a part of athletics."

The school has not officially offered him a coaching position, but he will assist basketball coaches this season, Hilton said.

"The team aspect is similar to teaching. We're all part of the same team trying to reach the same goal," said Hilton.

The return to Groveland has Hilton in some ways returning to life in high school.

He shot baskets for hours last week with former coach Jerry Woolsey and has stayed temporarily with his mother Wynette, a 19-year educator in Groveland and principal of Tenaya Elementary School.

"There's a lot of older people in our community that would come to games, or follow him in the paper that now come into the school office and ask how he's doing," said Wynette.

His mom and several former teachers all describe Hilton as a bright student but said athletics always came before academics.

However, the interest in science did not surprise his mother, who said a childhood spent outside camping, fishing and playing sports nurtured a fascination with the natural world.

Neither did Hilton's take to drama as a teen, and his willingness to teach the class this year at Tioga.

"He was a little bit shy, believe it or not, but when he can put himself in a role, it gives him confidence," she said.

"I think his teaching is an acting role," said Wynette. "When Billy gets into a role it's like being an athlete. He is that role, and it's like 'I'm going to become this crazy interesting biology teacher,' " she said.

At the moment, the district has no arrangements with Hilton past his one-year contract, but he has aspirations for a longer career in education.

"My end goal will be to go back to school and be a professor, but I'd have to give up coaching. So I think teaching and coaching and having my summers to do science stuff will work for now," he said.

"I just hope (students) tell stories about me. That's my goal - be someone's story for the rest of their life," he said.

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