Hoover High School
The Legacy of Hoover Buccaneer Victor Hill
By Wayne Wood
It’s been 10 years since 2001 when Victor Dionte’ Hill was a 10th grader playing football for the Hoover Bucs. Sadly, June 24, 2012 will mark the 10th year that Victor passed from our presence leaving a legacy of passion and friendships rarely seen from one so young at the time. He had a positive impact on nearly everyone he came into contact with.
I was one of those privileged to know him albeit briefly. It was during his 8th grade year in 1999 playing football at Simmons Middle School. One of the main things I remember about Victor was his passion for the sport and the desire to get better such as hard work in the weight room. I also remember him wanting to include his little brother Cortez as the ball boy that season. You could tell he had a love for being a big brother to his younger sibling.
It wasn’t until about two years later after Victor’s death that I had the opportunity to really get to know him better. Tony Franklin had been a high school and college coach using his talents around the nation as an offensive consultant. Hoover Coach Rush Propst employed his services from time to time. Tony was at the scene on the field where Victor collapsed that day. He was witness to much of the tragic events of the week and managed to absorb the feelings and emotions of many of the people involved and was later inspired to write down those memories.
Later Tony asked me to help him in formulating a book about those sad events but also to include joyful and meaningful thoughts or insights from family members, teammates, coaches and friends who knew Victor best. The book was titled “Victor’s Victory” and numerous people who have read it indicate how inspirational it is.
Victor was prematurely born on August 18, 1986 weighing only 2 pounds. The nurses nicknamed him “Wild Man” because of his continuous wiggling, kicking and rolling. It was an indication of things to come years later. One of the first words he ever said was “football” and it soon became a passion in his young life as he played for the Tarrant Wildcats in youth league football. His “wiggling” style of running with the ball as being one of the most elusive backs in the Birmingham area helped gain him the nickname “Sugar Hill.”
Victor moved with his family (mother Cheryl, older sister Syreeta and younger brother Cortez) to Hoover in 1997 living in the Bluff Park area. He enrolled at Simmons for his 6th grade year and it didn’t take him long to acquire a host of friends. Though he had a passion for his family and friends, Victor also developed a passion for his spiritual life with God.
Playing for the Simmons Bucs as a 7th grader in 1998, he displayed the talents as a back he’d developed earlier. Simmons had recently been successful with talented 8th grade teams which were undefeated in 1994, 1996 and 1997. Unfortunately, this class didn’t have quite as many talented players. They didn’t win a game that season and the following season in 1999 only saw one win. However, Victor was one of those who played like a champion from start to finish.
One example was his last 8th grade game at Hoover’s Buccaneer Stadium. Simmons was trailing their opponent by a large margin with no chance of winning and only a few seconds left in the game. The Bucs were driving for a consolation TD with the ball deep in the opponent’s territory. The quarterback threw an interception to one of the biggest and fastest defensive players. The player looked like he would score on a 90-yard TD return and was nearly 10-15 yards behind everyone. Victor was the only one really chasing him and covered the distance rapidly and caught him. After wrestling with him for several yards, Victor finally brought the boy down a few feet short of the goal line as time ran out. It was typical Victor in never quitting.
Victor and his teammates merged with another middle school which had several talented players including QB John Parker Wilson and Curtis Dawson. As Hoover freshmen in 2000, they had a very successful season with Victor playing running back. This was the same year that the varsity won a state championship beating Daphne in the state title game. One of the goals Victor had set in his 9th grade year was winning a state title every year he was on the varsity especially his senior season.
He spent much of his 2001 sophomore season on the junior varsity team including scoring 4touchdowns in a win over rival Spain Park. Occasionally, he would get into a varsity game if they were leading by a large margin late in the game including the first two playoff games in early November. The Bucs were counting on him as a bright prospect for the future. Hoover was 14-0 entering the state title game again playing Daphne. This time the Bucs lost.
The spring of 2002 saw returning stars such as wide receiver Chad Jackson coming back for his senior year. Victor and Chad were close friends and were sometimes referred to as “cousins.” Victor spent the spring working at running back as big things were expected from his junior year. I remember the last spring practice we had in May was a referee-controlled scrimmage. After finishing, Coach Propst called the team to assemble in the end zone for some last words. The ref tossed me the ball. After a few seconds I tossed the ball to a passing Victor. He proceeded to playfully run through the crowd of players and coaches dodging people right and left as he finally gathered with the others. I distinctly remember the smile on his face as he quietly held the ball joining everyone in listening to the coach. It’s the last memory I have of him.
During the month of June, Victor had come to early morning workouts before leaving to attend summer school. That afternoon, he participated with the offensive and defensive skill players in a 7 on 7 workout. It was a mild temperature that late June afternoon. Earlier in the month, one of the Hoover starting defensive backs had been injured and the coaches had asked Victor to move to his cornerback spot. His wasn’t particularly happy about the move but did so because he was a team player. He worked hard in accepting in his new role.
The Bucs were working on what is the current varsity soccer playing field that June 24th day. There was a local television reporter with a camera man on the site to do a special segment on Chad Jackson. Because of the unexpected tragic events that day with Victor, the segment wasn’t completed but it was there to report the tragedy. Of course, it was never shown on the telecast but there were clips of Jackson with an occasional glimpse of Victor playing defense on him. Only a few of us have ever seen it.
When Victor collapsed on the field, everyone who had any medical training jumped into action doing everything in their power before the paramedics arrived to take him to the hospital where he eventually died. Everything that could be done was done except one. Although it was relatively new to the thinking at the time, there was an AED (Automatic External Defibrillator) in the athletic building straight up the hill about 200 yards away.
It was one of the saddest funerals ever in Hoover history. One of the most meaningful moments was when Hoover athletic director Ron Swann gave Victor’s mother Cheryl his 2000 state championship ring. He wanted it to be put on Victor’s finger during the visitation and from then on. It was something Victor longed to have before he finished his career for the Hoover Bucs.
That following 2002 season, each of the players wore a #8 (Victor’s varsity jersey number) on their game jersey. Dedicating the season to Victor, the Bucs completed the season with another state championship and in 2003 won yet another state title again with the #8 patch on the jersey. Victor achieved his personal goal of winning state titles for his last two seasons and although he wasn’t there in person he certainly was in spirit.
There is another story connected to this. It was February 3, 2003, less than 8 months when Victor died, when another near tragedy occured. It was in the basketball competition gym where the varsity girls were practicing. Sophomore Ashley Shepherd had just finished running sprints and had to sit down. Moments later, she slumped onto the floor and lay lifeless at the end of the court with no visible response. Trainer Brandon Sheppard and other coaches immediately went into action using the AED which was within a few yards of use near the training room. After transportation to the hospital and extensive medical treatment, Ashley survived and recovered over the next several weeks.
The irony was that the location of where Ashley was when she collapsed in the gym was almost in a straight line distance up above the field where Victor had collapsed. The AED had been located in between both spots although much closer to where Ashley was. Later, Brandon Sheppard’s thoughts went to heaven as he thanked God for allowing Ashley to live. He also thought about Victor and personally realized that it was possibly Victor’s spirit who helped guide him through every step of the way in helping to save Ashley.
Because of these events and other similar events around the state of Alabama, it is now a requirement of all schools to have at least one AED on location for immediate use for the emergency need of students, faculty and guests-not just athletes. Coaches and administrators are required by the AHSAA to be trained and updated frequently in the use of this and other emergency medical assistance. Many businesses and public places have done the same.
Later Tony Franklin distributed copies of his book “Victor’s Victory” to schools throughout the state emphasizing the need for the AED and other safety/health requirements. He coaches college football and has included speaking engagements across the nation relating this message. After Ashey Shepherd graduated from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, she travelled across the nation promoting the AED as well.
There has even been some discussion of taking Victor’s story and making a movie about it. Whether that occurs or not remains to be seen. The most important thing is that Victor’s legacy is a very moving one and it will continue to influence people in a positive way. Hoover is proud to claim Victor Hill as a legendary Buccaneer.