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The Ďconductorí

To Ed Hill, coaching is about more than a game

(Published February 11, 2002)

By BRANDON M. BICKERSTAFF

Special to The Common Denominator

On any Sunday morning youíre likely to see more than just a practice session on the basketball courts at the No. 10 Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Club in Northwest Washington.

Children from throughout the metropolitan area descend on these courts each week, almost religiously, in a quest to develop not only basketball skills, but character as well. Each Sunday is a new lesson learned, and each experience is valued and treasured.

For some people, volunteering time, money and energy to coach inner-city young people is a conscious effort. For Edward Hill Jr., it is simply a quick bus ride down 14th Street.

Hill, 51, born in Wilmington, N.C. but raised in the District, is the head coach of the D.C. Warriors, an Amateur Athletic Union traveling basketball team. Each Sunday morning from 10 to noon, children ages 7 through 18 gather at the Boys and Girls Club courts to develop not only into better athletes, but into better individuals.

"I enjoy (coaching) so much," Hill said. "I feel like (the players are) the orchestra and Iím the conductor. Iím pushing them to do things they never thought they were capable of."

While teaching young players the fundamentals of the game, Hill also integrates character-building exercises into each practice. One value Hill said he tries to teach is teamwork. If a player makes a basket during practice, Hill asks the scoring player, "Who made the pass?" This question helps younger players understand the importance of team effort, he said.

"We try to place the emphasis on sharing versus the individual," Hill said. "That is so important, especially in dealing with young African-American men. Thereís a hunger, a need to be recognized as an individual on the court.

"We have to be able to encourage (teamwork) in order to help them understand the importance of working together."

Hill, a father of seven, understands the challenges of reaching young people in the District based on his experiences growing up in the city. The Cardozo Senior High School graduate said his own upbringing had a lot to do with his involvement in the lives of countless young athletes.

"Growing up in Northwest, I played for the Boys and Girls Club myself," Hill said. "That became something for me to gain an identity. In our community, sports are one of the only existing structures by which we can deal with (children). Theyíre attracted because sports bring a sort of fame.

"Thereís a certain amount of respect when youíre a kid in your neighborhood and people see you going back and forth from games in your uniform."

Hill and his staff travel with the team to tournaments across the country during the summer. Through hard work, dedication and discipline, Hill said the players develop into better people. Through traveling, the players are able to experience life outside of the District.

"Playing in these tournaments shows them that life doesnít revolve around Northwest, Northeast Washington," Hill said. "You can just see the amount of poise they have, being able to function under pressure. Basketball helps prepare them to cope with that same pressure in their environment."

Hillís work with the Warriors has gained attention from all over the area as a prime outlet for developing players. Each year, more and more young players flock to the Boys and Girls Club doors with the hope of gaining a bit of the knowledge Hill and his staff have to offer.

Northeast resident Ronnie Herrington moved to the District 12 years ago from his native North Carolina. His 10-year-old son, Dominique Jackson, is in his first year with the Warriors. Herrington, who coaches young players at the Kingman Boys and Girls Club, said a fellow coach told him about the Warriorsí program. He said he knew the team was just what his son needed.

"Heís been (with the Warriors) about a month," Herrington said. "I coach him, too, but I can only coach him so much."

Karen Greenís 14-year-old son, Jason, has been with the Warriors since he was 9 and is now a freshman on full scholarship at DeMatha High School. She said Hillís involvement with her sonís growth has been "remarkable."

"Edís been wonderful," Green said. "I love watching the team practice. Their progress is phenomenal. The discipline has been great. The coaches help tutor the guys and help them with homework. They really stress academics. They want these guys to get into good schools."

"The coaches said we couldnít play without the grades," Jason Green said. "That helped me stay focused in the classroom."

Hill has coached a host of talented players in the D.C. area. Last yearís NCAA rebound champion, Howard University center Andrea Gardner, and Houston Rockets guard Steve Francis are both former pupils of Hill.

"When Steve Francis first came to us, he hated it," Hill said. "We condition a lot. Now, he has a reputation as one of the hardest working players in the NBA."

For Hill, a devout Muslim, helping young players develop into quality human beings is his reward. He said his Arabic name, Khalil, means "one who comes to the aid of others." Hill said he believes helping young people is his calling in life.

"Iím blessed to be in this position," Hill said. "We have to teach our young men how to be responsible as students, workers, husbands and fathers as well as ball players.

"We donít go around looking for a pat on the back. When we see our players out doing positive things in life, thatís our reward."

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator