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Ken Hill left lasting legacy on Grant Co. sports

COUNTY SPORTS ICON: Surrounded by mementos from years of covering and participating in Grant County sports, Ken Hill, editor and publisher of Sports Hotline, holds up the Aug. 21, 2015 edition of his weekly sports newspaper, his final edition after 44 years of reporting, photographing and publishing. Hill died on Saturday at the age of 83.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

What makes a person special?

Any number of traits and personality characteristics could be used to answer that question, but the ability to make other people feel special would rank near the top of that list.

And for over four decades, making others feel special was one of Ken Hill’s passions.

On a given Friday or Saturday night, Ken would be spotted at multiple high school games, camera in hand and notepad in pocket, recording a legacy of sports for a county that has long been sports crazed.

Hill published his Sports Hotline for 44 years and it seemed as if he was omnipresent. He died Saturday at the age of 83.

If he wasn’t at local high school, he was at the Marion PAL Club or Lincoln Field or any of the numerous other little league diamonds around the county. Ken made his rounds at both Indiana Wesleyan and Taylor Universities making sure to provide as much information and as many pictures to his readers as space would allow.

“I don’t think you realized when you were younger how many events Ken Hill was at,” said Chanse Young, Mississinewa Athletic Director and former coach and player at all levels in Gas City sports. “It was truly amazing that he was able to get to so many things and get coverage for so many student athletes and teams. Just phenomenal and missed. When the Hotline shutdown and now with his passing, people realize how special he was.”

Hill’s endeavor was certainly a labor of love and his passion for sports seemed never ending. While the Sports Hotline was also his livelihood, he may have never realized the profound impact he was having on young athletes.

Just about anyone who ever played a game at any level of sport in Grant County from 1971 until he retired in 2015 had moments in their lives that were captured by Ken Hill and shared in his popular publication. 

“When I think about Ken Hill, I think about being a young player growing up, looking for an opportunity to be in the Sports Hotline,” said Marion boys basketball coach James Blackmon, who graced Hill’s pages from his PAL Club days through his career in college. “That was one of the things that I looked forward to was grabbing that magazine and seeing what Ken Hill wrote about me.

“He was someone that loved Marion, he loved the athletes and he wanted to do his job as far as covering. As a player that’s part of the process of growing,” Blackmon added. “He played an important role as far as recognizing certain things from a young player.”

Blackmon certainly gained a lot of ink as a youngster in Marion, but his decision to attend the University of Kentucky aligned with another of Hill’s passions, Big Blue Nation and the Wildcats. Hill was born in Lexington, Kentucky, graduated from Henry Clay High School in 1953 and earned his BA in journalism from Kentucky in 1958, where he was also a pitcher for the Wildcats’ baseball team.

After stops in Michigan and Illinois, Hill found his way to Grant County around 1968 and started working for the Chronicle-Tribune before spawning the Sports Hotline.

“What he meant to Grant County was he was great for the kids. The kids just loved to get that newspaper,” said Herb McPherson, a former player, coach, and Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame member, who met Hill shortly after his arrival in the county. “They couldn’t wait for it to get on the stands so they could go down and buy a paper and you’d see sitting around before practice looking at a newspaper. They just wanted to see if their picture was in there. He had great following and he was great for kids, but he was just a great person.”

Hill had a knack to find interesting facts he would put in his Things You May Not Know section, and a deep pool of resources grew deeper through the years. One of the most popular things every week in the Hotline was Faces in the Crowd, where if your picture appeared some kind of food reward at a local restaurant was awarded. 

Most everyone has a great memory of Ken Hill.

Kyle Persinger, a member of Marion’s Purple Reign teams from 1985-87, recalled a moment after practice during the 1987 tournament run when Bill Green Arena was empty, except for him, Eric Ewer, myself and Hill.

Persinger stood just “millimeters” inside the out-of-bounds line on one end of the court with basketball in hand. Seconds later the ball was swishing through the net on the other end of the floor.  

“I said ‘Ken, put this in Things You May Not Know when I put this in.’ Then boom and he did,” Persinger said.

“I think Ken Hill wrote about that 20 years later as the like most incredible (memory for him),” he added.  “I cant believe of all the memories that was his most amazing and most memorable.”

But it certainly wasn’t Persinger’s most vivid memory of Ken Hill.  

“I think Ken Hill spread a lot of joy. You never realized until you got older and we got closer, just all the work he put in,” Persinger said. “I think he was dedicated, he knew it was important that kids be recognized, people be recognized and that everybody have their opportunity. He did not discriminate.”

Persinger also noted how Hill continued to cover his basketball career when he followed Bill Green from Marion to the University of Indianapolis.

“The one thing he did when you were from Grant County, you never moved away because he always (had) the college view or when you became professional, Ken Hill reported on you and you became a part of his family,” Persinger said.

“My favorite memory of Ken Hill is just what a good natured guy he was. How caring of an individual he was,” he added. “From begging to be in Faces in the Crowd to probably being a pain in his behind, from saying hey Ken watch my shot in high school to adulthood where you could really become a friend, Ken Hill always respected you and worked with you. He was a true gentleman and a true friend.”