Hill City, I missed ye
For the first time during this high school basketball season, I’m watching a game in a gym in a town other than Norton, Kansas. Granted, this is only the fourth high school date I have attended, but I have generally tried to avoid places other than Norton this season.
To get to where I am tonight, I followed most of the same route I take to Norton: Interstate 70 from Russell to WaKeeney, then north on US 283.
Only this time, I stopped when I got to the junction of 283 and US 24. Hill City.
It’s Norton and Hill City tonight. This is the regular season finale for the Bluejays. It was supposed to be the Ringnecks’ regular season finale, too, but they have a game Thursday at Ness City which was postponed when a blizzard blew through on Groundhog Day.
The people in Hill City are nothing short of fantastic. I have a very warm relationship with both basketball coaches, Linda Nighswonger with the girls and Keith Riley with the boys.
Linda has been here since 2006-07, and she has enjoyed great success, taking Hill City to the state tournament twice, including a Class 2A runner-up finish in 2010. She was a very accomplished coach at Logan before coming to Graham County. The Ringnecks had been foundering in the years prior to Linda’s arrival, but now they are flourishing, as they did during the 1970s when they won a state championship.
Keith Riley has been at Hill City longer than I have been living. He is truly an ageless wonder. The man looks 15 years younger than his true age, which means he keeps in great shape. He has a very structured system, but he can adapt to his talent, no matter if the Ringnecks are more suited to play an up-tempo game, or a slower pace. No wonder he’s won close to 800 games and three state championships.
The good news for Linda and Keith is they have outstanding support from the administration.
Alan Stein, Hill City’s principal, was a highly decorated volleyball coach with the Ringnecks before he became principal, and he also served as President of the Kansas State High School Activities Association Executive Board. The man cares about school activities, he cares about his students, and he cares about the association.
There were a few in Hill City not too long ago who wanted Superintendent Jim Hickel out, but fortunately, he’s still around. I hardly have been to a HIll City event where I have not seen him and/or Alan in attendance.
Norton has good people, too. It was very sad to see Superintendent Greg Mann leave at the end of the 20141-5 school year, but the district is in very good hands with Phil Wilson, who won multiple state championships as a football coach at Stockton before becoming principal at Washington County.
Rudy Perez is an outstanding principal, and he had a very tough act to follow, as he succeeded Lary Stull, who served Norton with distinction for 28 years before retiring in 2006.
I’ve known three athletic directors at Norton–Larry Mills, Jeff Wallingford and Dustin McEwen–and all have been very good to me. As have coaches like Kevin Jilka, George Rossi, Jason Jones, Bill Johnson, Lucas Melvin, and last but not least, my dear friend Peggy.
Hill City and Norton are two school districts which get it. Hopefully they can remain strong in the coming years.