ANNAPOLIS– Darryl Hill – the first African-American man to play collegiate football in the South – received standing ovations Tuesday when he was honored by the Maryland General Assembly.
Hill, who began playing football for the University of Maryland in 1963, was likened to another African-American sports pioneer by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, Jr.
“Darryl Hill is to southern college football, what Jackie Robinson is to baseball,” Busch said.
Hill was honored by lawmakers’ joint resolution for not only integrating ACC college sports 50 years ago, but also for his current work tackling economic barriers that prevent Maryland youth from participating in organized sports.
Hill was met with resounding applause when he took the podium and spoke of his role in the state’s history, and marveled in the fact that Maryland was the first southern state to integrate college sports.
“I want to point out how proud the state of Maryland needs to be. When I entered college sports 50 years ago, children of color, young people of color could not play at the college of their choice in the South.” Hill said, adding that they had to travel north to play basketball or football, or play at a historically black college in the South.
“The University of Maryland and the state of Maryland needs to be very, very proud of the fact that they were the first to stand up and take this wall down,” he said. He told of how the University approached the ACC, and notified the conference that it was bringing in an African-American player. Hill said the university met with resistance but stood its ground.
Gov. Martin O’Malley, who attended the same high school, Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., as Hill, was present Tuesday when Hill was honored. Dr. Wallace Loh, president of University of Maryland and Kevin Anderson, the university’s athletic director, were also at the State House, as were two of Hill’s grandchildren.
Hill, a Washington, D.C., native who now lives in Columbia, played football at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and after a year, transferred to the University of Maryland where he became the first African-American to play collegiate football in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Hill reflected on life on the road with the Terrapins, as the team traveled to segregated establishments, and noted how his coaches, teammates and then-University President Wilson Elkins supported him during those hard times of challenging segregation.
“The team backed me every time. They changed their dining patterns,” Hill said. “If he can’t stay, we won’t stay,” Hill said was the team stance.
The audience of lawmakers erupted in laughter when Hill explained that once the African-American staff of the establishments they patronized began to give the team gifts of pecan pies, fried chicken and po’boy sandwiches, the team quickly came to prefer the locations that offered those perks.
Today, Hill works for his non-profit organization, Kids Play USA Foundation, which aims to make organized sports affordable and available to all children.
“Fifty years ago, I fought against racial discrimination so that young people were allowed to play sports at the college of their choice. Now, I am fighting against economic discrimination in youth sports.” Hill said.
He referred to the issue as a “pay to play” phenomenon that is leaving underprivileged children at a disadvantage, and called on the state of Maryland to join him in his efforts.
“Sports belong to all children,” Hill said. “Our objective is to make Maryland a leader in this regard.” Hill said.
“I don’t think you will meet a more committed person,” Karen Simmons-Beathea, Director of Communications at Kids Play USA, said in an interview. “He has dedicated himself to helping people. It is a formidable goal to reach, but if anyone can do it, Darryl can.”