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Basketball in His Blood

Dennis Hill is Honored by Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame

For twenty-four years, Fishtowner Dennis Hill worked for the Philadelphia Police Department. For seven years after that, he was the manager for Maui on Delaware Avenue (a nightclub that once stood next to Penn Treaty Park). For the last twelve years, Dennis has been working at the University of Pennsylvania in Public Safety, a job he will be retiring from in a few weeks.

Of all the jobs Dennis has worked in his life, it seems that his most successful was actually the game of basketball. Dennis Hill has basketball in his blood. From his time playing as a young kid at Newt’s Playground (now Shissler Recreation Center) and the old Hackett schoolyard, he idolized the giants of the game. “The old Newt’s indoor court was very small and the basket was on the wall. You learned to position yourself properly so you didn’t get pushed into the wall. I played on outdoor courts in all types of weather. My love of the game started when I went to see the Tom Gola, Paul Arizin, and Wilt Chamberlain play for the Philadelphia Warriors. I was very lucky later in life to become friends with all of them.”

I first came to know Dennis when I was working at North Catholic in the development office. Dennis is a 1967 graduate, and was very active with the school. I had no idea of his history with the Falcon basketball team. I just knew Dennis as a loyal grad and super-friendly guy – a neighborhood guy. “I started North Catholic in 1963,” said Hill.  “And I was honored to make the freshmen team after two weeks, because over four hundred freshmen went out for the team. I was coached by Fran Dougherty, who to this day is still a very close friend. I played for two more years until I suffered a knee injury, which required two operations in five months.”

In spite of this injury, Dennis Hill remains close to the game to this day. “I have played the game in every level with some the greatest players from the Philadelphia area,” said Hill, “I enjoy the game as much today as I did when playing for Coach Frank O’Neill at Holy Name CYO.”

Throughout his life, he has coached at Holy Name of Jesus Grade School, Fishtown Athletic Club, and the 26TH District PAL teams to championships. He also coached at Archbishop Ryan and North Catholic. Furthermore, Hill has scouted for Providence College for his friend Tim Welch when he was the coach.

Hill’s work in basketball has not gone unnoticed. He has been honored by the City of North Wildwood and Roman Catholic’s Sports Hall of Fame.

For the past twelve years, Dennis has been the Executive Director of the William H. Markward Basketball Club of Philadelphia. The club, which is the oldest basketball club in the country, was founded in 1946 and was created to honor Philadelphia Scholastic players. Hill spoke of expanding the parameters of the club, stating, “My staff and I have made changes in which we now honor female high school players. We have also included the Suburban schools.”

Dennis said he sees about one hundred and eighty high school games per year to find players to be honored by the Markward club. Hill says he sometimes enjoys watching girls’ basketball as much or more than boys’ games, because they often show more solidarity as a team.

I asked Dennis how he thinks the game of basketball has changed since the time of his youth. Once again, he focused on the topic of teamwork, declaring, “The court is the same length and the basket is the same height. Some young players today think that it is more important to shoot a three-point attempt rather than use teamwork to make a lay up.”

When asked about the criteria for the players to be honored by the Markward club, Dennis said, “The Markward Club honors a player for their merits on the court and off the court. The player has to show that they are deserving of our award by respecting their teammates, coaches, refs and the other teams.”

The Markward Club provides scholarship aid to students with future college costs. They pick their candidates at the end of every basketball season. Generally, Markward honors the players of the year from all local scholastic leagues. The club picks one male and one female as the top players of the year. The Markward Club also honors unsung players, team managers, and basketball officials. This year, a player from Fishtown that Markward honored was Billy Shank from Neumann-Goretti’s championship team.

Of all his involvement with the game of basketball, Hill’s greatest honor took place on April 10, 2012, when he was honored by the City All Star Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame for his work with the Markward Club and the devotion and leadership he has displayed through his lifelong legacy.

“This award is the pinnacle in my career. I am very fortunate because I am able to do something that I love. The award ceremony was attended by two of my former assistant coaches from Holy Name: Mike Golden and Marty Golden. They were beside me when I started in the coaching field.”

I asked Dennis if he had any words of wisdom to impart to young basketball players, to which he responded, “I always tell young players when I am doing basketball clinics that you have to work hard to be the best. Basketball is a game that requires five players to be united on the court to become the best team. I always remember what Jim Phelan, the Hall of Fame Coach from Mount Saint Mary’s, told me. Dennis – be good to the game because the game was good to you.”

Dennis continued with shout-outs to connections from his career in the game, stating, “Also, never forget your teammates (Jerry Leski, Don Woods, Buddy Bukowski) and players who you have coached (Joe Boback, John Shank, Jimmy and Billy Lamb, Tommy Smith). These are friendships that will last a lifetime. I always say that I haven’t done bad for a skinny kid from Fishtown.”

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