Grief struck the hearts of many March 26 when they learned their former coach, mentor, co-worker and friend had died.
William Thednal Hill, of Viola died March 26 at Hospice House of the Ozarks in Mountain Home. He was 82.
Throughout 35 years as a coach, Hill ended his career in 1986 with a record of 1,023 victories and only 162 losses. He is the winningest girls' basketball coach in Arkansas history and is ranked third nationally.
He led three teams to state championships.
In 2003 Hill joined the ranks of distinguished coaches when he was inducted into the Arkansas High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
His record speaks volumes. His talent as a coach earned him respect on the basketball court. But, if you ask those who knew him best, it was his character that made an impression.
After graduating from Arkansas State Teachers College in Conway, he began teaching at Moro in 1952. Two years later he began coaching at Viola, where he led a 17-year reign of power house teams and established himself in the coaching community.
Former Salem girls basketball Coach Gary Cooper coached a number of games against Hill's teams. "I never beat him at Viola. After that there were only a few exceptions, but I seemed to always come up short," Cooper said. "I think he's one of the best fundamental coaches I've ever seen."
Though the two were competitors on the court, away from basketball, the two developed a lasting friendship, according to Cooper. "I think those girls thought we hated each other, but we were the best of friends," he said. "Even in the later years, we were friends. He would always ride with me to the Harrison tournament, and we'd talk basketball, of course."
Not only was Hill respected by his professional peers; his players loved him.
"Coach Hill had a gift. He could make a ball player out of any girl -- whether they wanted to be or not," said Venita (Trett) Ninemire, who played under Hill while attending school at Viola. "But he really was such a good man and so sharp. I cried when I found out he was leaving (the Viola School District)."
"When I was in the fourth or fifth grade I made him a rooster out of corn and beans glued on paper. Years later when I was an adult, he reminded me about that rooster and said he still had it," Ninemire said. "Things like that -- that's why people love him."
Hill's Highland players agree. Throughout his 15 years at the school, Hill made a major impact in his players lives.
"He was really great at teaching us that we had a common goal and keeping a team together -- that was his real talent," said Sandy (Golden) Murphy who played under Hill at Highland and was a senior on the 1973 state championship team.
Kim (Tucker) Sample, another of Hill's former Lady Rebels said she could reminisce about Hill for hours and still have memories to spare. Sample said Hill was a major influence in her life. She said she admired Hill not only for his coaching but because of the life he led.
"He was such a good person and husband. He really inspired (players) to be better than we really were. He made you want to run through a brick wall for him," Sample said. "Even though we were athletes, he taught us to be ladies. He always said books, basketball, then boys -- in that order."
"I've never heard of anyone who didn't respect Coach Hill," Sample said.
Hill, the son of the late W.C. Hill and Eula Bookout Hill, was born Feb. 5, 1925 at Myron.
He was united in marriage to Margorie Jones in 1948 at Viola. He served in the U.S. Army. In addition to coaching girls' basketball, Hill was a member of the AEA, NEA, Fulton County Election Committee, a 32-degree Mason, a member of the new Viola Lodge 741, Salem VFW and the Methodist Church.
Survivors include: his wife of 59 years, Margorie, of the family home; his brother, Charles Hill and wife Carol Ann of Cherokee Village; sisters, Cowanda Isbett of Mountain Home, Eudean Graham of Midwest City, Okla., Shirley Whisenand and husband Larry of Omaha, Neb., and Carolyn Bradley of Pearland, Texas; and a host of other relatives and friends.
He was preceded in death by two sisters, Delaphine Hill and Winetta Gifford; and his father and mother.
Services will be held Thursday, March 29 at the Viola High School Gymnasium at 2 p.m., with burial in the Mt. Calm Cemetery under the direction of Cox-Blevins Funeral Home of Salem.
The body will lie in state Wednesday, March 28 from noon until 4 p.m at the Cox-Blevins Funeral Home.