Rick Snider: With Maryland, Hill brought about change

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Sports,College,Rick Snider

Darryl Hill once fumbled a kickoff as he looked for a gunman on a nearby rooftop. He heard a Wake Forest crowd boo his family. At least they were allowed inside; Clemson wouldn't let them inside the gates.

Fifty years later, Maryland will honor its halfback/returner during Saturday's N.C. State game for being the first black player in school and ACC history. Tales of the team having to stay and eat only at southern establishments willing to serve a minority now sound strange to current Terrapins players. Hill's stories often are met with disbelief.

"They're like, 'Really? This really happened?'?" Hill said. "It was like shock treatment to them, some of the stories. It's beyond their comprehension."

Hill spent 1961 at Navy -- where he also was the Midshipmen's first black player -- catching passes from Roger Staubach before he transferred to Maryland. He still ranks in the Terps' top 10 in single-season touchdown catches and kickoff return average for his one healthy year in 1963.

But it wasn't easy on or off the field. A former teammate claimed Navy, upset about the transfer, hit Hill so hard in the 1963 meeting that payback was delivered in 1964. That game was so volatile the series didn't resume until 2005.

That, though, was nothing compared with the racially charged atmospheres of ACC schools. Death threats were common and hard to ignore on the road. Hill often responded with big games.

"I was motivated by this stuff, but I didn't think about it much," he said. "I was a reluctant pioneer at first, but when I started seeing the horrors in the South, I got more and more motivated.

"The fans were the most threatening. We had a couple of incidents where guys pulled up in the truck with guns in the back and the Confederate flag. They didn't know it was me. They said, 'Tell [Hill] we're going to shoot him.' South Carolina was a night game. The crowd was drunk. It was a scary scene, but I blocked it out."

Thanks to Hill, black players soon joined schools across the South, and in 1973 Alabama shared the national crown.

"Things change. The good thing about it is they changed rapidly," Hill said. "I think people were glad to get rid of this burden of segregation."

Hill later spent one season on the New York Jets' taxi squad before returning to Maryland to earn his master's degree in economics. He created companies in China and Russia plus the Pacific Energy Corporation.

Now Hill has a new goal: overcoming "economic discrimination" against low-income families that can't afford for their children to play sports. He started Kids Play USA to help defray expenses and acquire equipment for youth leagues.

"[Economic discrimination, that's] not right, that's not fair and that's not good for the nation," he said.

Examiner columnist Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more on Twitter @Snide_Remarks or email rsnider@washingtonexaminer.com.

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