Hill remembered with special night
By Kevin Eckleberry
LAGRANGE – It was a special night.
Less than a year ago, Mitchell Hill died at the age of 47, leaving a massive void in the community in so many areas.
For decades, Hill was heavily involved in youth sports in Troup County, and he began the LaGrange Wolverines basketball program in 2003.
Last weekend, many of those who knew Hill best and loved him gathered at LaGrange High for an event in his honor.
The Mitchell Hill Memorial Scholarship Foundation hosted the New School/Old School fundraiser basketball games in LaGrange High’s gym.
The night included a game between the Wolverines and a team from Roanoke (Ala.), and former players from LaGrange High and Troup also mixed it up.
The festivities ended with the presentation of three $1,000 scholarships to students from Callaway, LaGrange and Troup.
The scholarship winners were Keegan Woods (Callaway), Jacob Vinson (LaGrange) and Kinley Stanford (Troup).
Kay Hill, Mitchell Hill’s wife, said all three scholarship recipients exemplified everything her husband valued.
“They had to be a student-athlete, and they also had to demonstrate some elements in community service, sportsmanship, and academics, and encompassing those things that were all a part of what Mitchell encouraged in all of the kids he coached,” Kay Hill said.
Mitchell Hill, a LaGrange native, was an integral part of the local sports community for decades.
Hill, a 1988 graduate of LaGrange High, was a long-time employee of the Troup County Parks and Recreation Commission, and he was a fixture at the Griggs Recreation Center, which was the home base for the Wolverines.
Hill also coached basketball at Gardner Newman Middle School, he was a youth football coach, and he oversaw the softball program for the Troup County Parks and Recreation Commission for the final three years of his life.
“He left such a gap in the community, and you feel it when you walk into the recreation center now,” Kay Mitchell said.
While Hill had a passion for basketball, his impact extended way beyond the hardwood, going back to his days working at Twin Cedars Youth Services.
“I’ve said this a lot about Mitchell over the past year that he just really had a way of bringing people together, and diverse groups of people,” Kay Hill said. “Just looking at who came to the (funeral) service, it struck me all the different groups of people that you would not normally see in the same place, and they were there for that. I feel like he really had a way of doing that.”
Kay Hill felt offering a scholarship would be something her husband would be enthusiastic about, so she set out to make that a reality.
Initially, she was going to only offer one scholarship, but thanks to the generosity of different folks, that number grew to three.
“We knew right off the bat we’d be able to do $1,000 and do one student,” Kay Hill said. “We got some very generous support from the state AAU board, and Mitchell was really kind of a mover and shaker on the state level in AAU basketball. Then the LaGrange Housing Authority provided some very generous support as well.
“And then we had a number of individual donors, 50 dollars here, and 100 bucks there. So I realized we can actually do three this year.”
Hill added that “about two weeks before this scholarship was due, I was calling (the athletic directors) and telling them we could do more. I was so happy to be able to do that.”
As for last weekend’s event, basketball was center stage.
The evening began with the Wolverines taking on the Roanoke Mustangs, and it was the Wolverines pulling out the win.
Avery Hill, Mitchell Hill’s son, plays for the Wolverines, and he helped his team by playing a stellar all-around game.
Kay Hill said each of the players on the team were like family to her husband.
“It’s not just about our son,” she said. “He considered all of those boys his family. All of those boys participated in his service at his funeral. I can see they’re a very tight-knit group. I see so much of Mitch in them. You feel the impact he had. That’s just so special. I hope they can carry that on and give back to other people as they continue to grow.”
Later in the evening, there was an alumni game between former players from LaGrange and Troup.
Also, there was a game strictly featuring former LaGrange High players, and that included more than 20 players who are current or former college players.
Dustin Ward, who is now a basketball coach at LaGrange, is a Troup High graduate, and he said everyone wanted to be there for Mitchell Hill.
“It’s for Mitchell,” said Ward, who was a basketball and football standout at Troup. “That’s why we’re here. All of us played for him. I’m glad we could do this for him.”
When Ward was learning football from the ages of 8 to 10, Hill was his coach.
“He always wanted to see kids develop and see kids do the right thing,” Ward said.
Ward, who went on to play college football as a quarterback, said Hill taught him things that he now employs in his own coaching career.
“He gave me things I use now as a coach, how to work, how to adjust, because all kids are different,” Ward said. “He did a good job of developing kids. Most of all, he knew how to get the most out of a kid and teach them how to compete, how to be their best.”
Kay Hill was grateful for the support, and she’s hoping to make this a regular event as a way to remember and honor Hill, and provide valuable scholarship money for local students.
“Our hope obviously is to be able to do this for years to come, and hopefully we can build on it,” she said.