The Historian’s Gift: Steve Hill Remembered [OPINION]
The game notes always came in longhand, all written with a blue ballpoint pen. Stats, coaching records, last five games of the series — transcribed onto wide-rule notebook paper, complete with Steve Hill’s thoughts about the high school football game they described.
Every high school football game in El Paso County. Every week.
I looked forward to seeing Steve’s meticulous notes, even when I had moved away from the show we helped start on Team 600 — Football Friday Night — to work with Time Warner Cable on its Game of the Week. I sought out Hill’s crib sheets looking for just one game, sorting through his notes on every game to find mine.
Steve Hill always had those notes — sometimes four pages of them for a single game — come Friday night. Not because he had to, but because he wanted to.
Steve died Tuesday morning at the age of 62, and local sports is the poorer for his loss.
El Paso high school football’s stats and history and context were art to Steve; those crib notes, his canvas. One game on one night was one dimensional and meaningless without the shading of how the game between the same teams went last year, and the years before that.
But it wasn’t just about the stats for Steve. He was a passionate advocate for El Paso high school football. From the time Football Friday Night began in 1992, Steve argued for local high school head coaches to have control over all the coaches they hired, from their assistants down into the middle schools that fed their programs. What was common sense through the rest of the state had not been seriously considered here.
Working as a TV sports reporter in the Midland-Odessa market after starting his media career in El Paso, he saw coaches with this control teach their systems from Grade 7 and up, so by the time players got to the varsity they knew that system front-to-back.
Steve would always say, “And it’s been (however many) years since an El Paso team has beaten Odessa Permian.” He knew that streak would continue as long as coaches didn’t have a say in who coached their feeder programs. El Paso schools allowed their varsity coaches this control in the 1990’s. It’s taken for granted now, but Steve Hill helped shine a light on a subject nobody outside the game had really paid much attention to.
He also admired Don Haskins, the late legend. After our Football Friday Night shows Steve would often regale us with stories of sharing a few rounds with The Bear. There were plenty of other stories for our post-show pizza parties in the radio station’s kitchen. Stories about other legendary coaches. Allan Sepkowitz, Don Brooks, John Parchman.
Stories about broadcasting, too. There was the time, back in the 1970’s when Steve was just starting out in local television, that he had a nosebleed on-air. In typical Steve Hill fashion, the show went on as Steve grabbed anything he could to staunch the flow, even as the blood got all over his white polyester suit.
I miss and don’t miss those times. The nights were long and demanding, and Steve wanted to get out of the studio to be at some of those games as much as I did. We tried a few Football Fridays on the road, but the technology wasn’t as solid as it is now. There was no such thing as 2g, much less 4g, and cell phones were still big enough to be used as deadly weapons.
The technology improved but Steve’s health did not. As his diabetes worsened, he eventually had to give up his chair in the Football Friday Night studios, too. He still kept stats at plenty of UTEP games for both football and basketball, but the high school notes had stopped a couple of years ago.
Foreshadowing could be found elsewhere, too. Sepkowitz and Brooks retired after last season. This year, Montwood became the first El Paso school to beat Odessa Permian since Sun Bowl stalwart John Folmer (speaking of great stories) was at Ysleta and the Indians did it way back in 1960. When I heard of Montwood’s win, I first thought of Steve Hill and the now-halted count.
More than once this high school football season I thought that I could stop by the studios before heading out to the game and pick up a Steve Hill crib sheet. I needed some context, some sense of things to fill in the blanks. More than once I have smiled wryly to myself that I’m on my own.
My understanding of Heaven is that getting there isn’t contingent on your good works. However, I can’t help but think that when Steve Hill arrived in the early hours of September 18, there was a stack of notebooks filled with his positive earthly deeds waiting for him at the gate. In longhand, all written with a blue ballpoint pen.
Not because anyone had to, but because they wanted to.