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Monday, April 6, 2015

Leadership and Courage

MSC's Henry Hill (left) was named Most Outstanding Athlete
at the 1966 Northern Intercollegiate Conference Outdoor
Track & Field Championship

It’s been nearly five decades since he laid foot in Mankato, but Henry Hill, Jr. is still remembered not only for his athletic prowess, but also for his ability to lead his teammates and peers alike.   

Born in Anoka, Minn., on July 23rd, 1944, to Henry Sr. and Albertha Hill, Henry attended Anoka High School where he served as the school’s first black President of the Senior Class.  Following graduation in 1962, he headed south of the Twin Cities where he joined his fellow student-athletes at Mankato State. 

Participating in multiple events, the three-time letter winner with the school's track teams, Hill led MSC (the school was known as Mankato State College when he attended) in individual points scored over the three seasons of his career from 1964-66.   He helped the Purple and Gold to an 8-1 dual record and a North Central Conference indoor team title in 1964, winning the league 60-yard high hurdles championship and finishing second in the 60-yard low hurdles in the process.  In establishing a meet record, he won the outdoor conference triple jump crown that year, as well.  As team captain as a senior, he led the Mavericks to another team title the following year by scoring an astounding 204 points all by himself in being named the NIC’s Most Outstanding Outdoor Track & Field Athlete. He was also named Mankato State’s Most Outstanding Athlete in 1966.  

Undoubtedly a tremendous athlete, it was Hill’s leadership, demeanor and his presence that made an impression on people.

Legendary Bud Myers, Hill’s track and field coach, was a man not usually prone to hyperbole, but in describing how he felt that his student-athlete said “Henry Hill was a credit to the human race. Not only his race, but the human race.

Former Minnesota State track and field athlete and men's cross country/track & field coach Mark Schuck said that Hill was the most outstanding athlete MSC had during that time.  “He was the captain on the team my freshman and sophomore years. I can’t say enough about his athletic ability."  Schuck, who was inducted into the Minnesota State Hall of Fame in 2014 following his retirement, felt Hill’s role with the team was one of the keys to its success. “Henry got along with everybody and he was just a great gentleman and loved competition. And he was a guy that commanded respect. We didn’t have the decathlon at the time, but there is no doubt that if we had, he would have been one of the all-time best in that event.”   

In a time where America’s culture and society were in a transitional state, Hill also made an impression on the people of Mankato.  “Like most of America in the 1960’s, Mankato was in a transition period and wasn’t really receptive to the transition it was going through with African-Americans during that time,” said Obie Kipper, another Minnesota State Hall of Fame inductee (1990) from the school’s track and field program. “Henry was a man of integrity who stood up for what he believed in.” 

Kipper, a 1970 MSC graduate, described Hill as “the perfect gentleman” and “a man who any parent could be proud of.”  Kipper was being recruited to Mankato State for track and field as a sprinter as a high school senior when Hill was a senior for the Indians.  “Henry was a stupendous athlete, as well as a student.  He understood what it meant to be a student-athlete.  He set examples for those who knew him and was a very personal guy.”  Hill’s personality and leadership definitely made an impression on Kipper during his recruitment trip as he says that was one of the main reasons why he decided to attend Mankato State College. 

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Hill was drafted into the United States Army.  He enrolled to become a candidate in officer school and was later named a second lieutenant.  Two years after he graduated from Mankato State College, Henry married his wife, Rita, in 1968, six days before starting his United States military tour overseas in Vietnam with the first infantry division.  Henry’s leadership qualities stood out as he was awarded the title of Infantry Unit Commander.  On August 23rd, 1968, almost exactly two months after shipping out for his tour, Henry was killed by a grenade in Quan Ngai, South Vietnam. He was 24 years old. 

Schuck said “Henry Hill will always be remembered as just a good athlete, a good gentleman, with good character and strong convictions. We wanted him as our captain. He was a great leader on the track and off the track”.  

After Hill’s death his body was sent to Franklin, La., to be buried next to his father’s. He is honored on Panel 47W, Row 45 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. 

      Contributed by Seth C. Allan, Athletic Communications Student Intern