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Ahead of the game


Posing with the 2A state championship trophy are the starting five Portland Christian girls basketball team, from left, Darcy Cornell, sophomore; Grace Johnson, senior; Kim Hill, junior; Shannon Clisby, junior; and freshman Kaely Maltman. Losing only one starter gives them “Royal” hope of repeating next season.
Sports are the most popular public exhibition in America. Admired for their skill and endurance, athletes bear our aspirations to triumph. What starts on the schoolyard slowly escalates to the college arena, where media blitzes and nationwide recognition nudge the idea of celebrity ever closer to our teenage stars, tempting them with a future as remunerative as it is uncertain. This aggrandizement troubles some, leading them to question the relevance of sports in society. With most commentary geared toward glorification, we can glean more about the makings and meanings of athletics from our own backyards.

Kim Hill, 17, impresses with her physicality. Though 6’4”, her ease of deportment belies the vigor of her game. Earning the 2A Player of the Year distinction in volleyball and basketball after the Portland Christian Royals clinched state championships in both sports, this local ace also attracted nationwide recognition when her Nike Northwest Junior Air Elite volleyball club team placed first out of 219 teams at the National Festival of Champions in Reno.

The final of 4
The Hills live on a quiet cul-de-sac in Argay. Father Bradd owns Chet Hill Insurance, Inc., in Parkrose, an independent agency started by his father in 1954. Bradd’s wife, Terri, though trained as a nurse, retired to rear their four talented and athletic daughters, whose achievements reflect her own childhood aspirations. “I played softball, volleyball, basketball, but before Title IX (the Equal Opportunity in Education Act establishing co-ed parity in sports), we lacked the teams and leagues they have now. We played, but no one was there.” Sharing her daughters’ experience has somewhat reinstated what she was once denied.

Shelby, now 24, initiated the Hills’ Portland Christian championship run as a sophomore, continued basketball at Biola University and now coaches high school basketball and plays recreationally.

Caitlin, 22, introduced Kim to volleyball. She still plays at Azusa University.

Kelsey, 20, plays on the Seattle Pacific University basketball team. She joined Kim and her parents to talk about sports, success and its effects while home on spring break.

Bradd couldn’t have had more sports in his life with all boys. In essence, Title IX equalized not only school athletics, but also united families like the Hills around a shared interest.

A little school a step above
As Shelby neared junior high, the Hills decided to transfer the girls from the Parkrose public school system to the local Portland Christian school. Kim described her school as “supportive but not gung-ho” about athletics, reflecting her parents’ own academic imperative.

“Academics is Portland Christian’s focus,” Terri affirmed.

Kim depicts PC sports as “relaxed. We work hard when we need to, condition when we need to, but we’re not one of those teams that comes in early to the gym. It’s all about having fun. No pressure like the big schools.”

Yet girls have no difficulty adjusting to the intensity of their college and club teams. Kelsey described a “different competitiveness, a lot more hard work,” at Seattle Pacific. “But it’s fun,” she quickly countered. “I wouldn’t play if it wasn’t fun, if I didn’t enjoy what I was doing and who I was with. Everyone around me wants to play.”

The Hill girls take every opportunity to play for the pure love of the game, crediting the support of family and the team dynamic for their success. When the combined skill of a group trumps any one member, even the star, the collaboration is as empowering as it is humbling. This interdependency then extends outward, reaching into the stands to feed off spectators’ enthusiasm. Inspired by their team, the fans’ energy drives the momentum onward.

“Sports bond a community, bring people together in a common exciting issue,” Bradd pointed out.

Terri added, “If a team is doing well, progressing to the playoffs, we start seeing people who didn’t come during the regular season.” Though choosing Portland Christian, with a less-centralized student body, has somewhat isolated their kids from the community, she hopes that their athletic success may lead more locals to include the smaller school’s events among their neighborhood attractions.

Shooting for the stars with her feet on the ground
Kim has yet to fathom all the attention. With her volleyball club coach encouraging her to try for the Olympic team and college solicitations flooding their mailbox each day, she remains unaffected.

“I didn’t expect it at all,” she said with a giddy sense of awe. “It’s been fun because it brings attention to PC; I will be sad to see it over.”

Bradd praised his daughter’s modesty. “If a college coach comes to a game, she doesn’t make a big deal. She’s very low key. She’s just a girl who loves to have fun.”

Sports provide tangible incentives for kids to enjoy hard work and chart their progress. Unlike scholarly pursuits that accrue achievements over a number of years, sports offer instant affirmation, more vulnerable to shifting variables than the earned A on test questions gleaned straight from the text. When her two sports overlap, Kim will often go from a practice to a game without rest, studying late at night.

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