Photo by: Jeffery Miller
Nicholls alumnus discusses some of his life achievements
February 9, 2017
Cleveland Hill, Nicholls alumnus, discusses how he became the first African American student athlete at Nicholls, what motivated him to work and play hard and what he’s been up to since departing from Nicholls.
Hill wanted to get a college education and be the first in his family to obtain a college degree. He saw his Nicholls basketball scholarship as a ticket to his education.
“I came from a very poor family, and playing basketball for Nicholls was an opportunity for me to get a college education,” Hill said. “I was making sure I didn’t leave [Nicholls] without a Bachelors degree. My dream at the time was to become the first person in my family to get a college degree, and I actually was the first to do so.”
As a high school student, Hill felt unsure about being the first black athlete at Nicholls. If it hadn’t been for the words of encouragement he received from his high school basketball coach, Hill might have never set foot on Nicholls’ campus.
“My high school basketball coach was a great influence in my life,” Hill said. “He basically said that it was time. There had been a lot of integration on college campuses and it was something that had to be done.”
A conversation Hill overheard between Vernon F. Galliano, Nicholls president in 1968, and a colleague influenced Hill’s decision on whether he wanted to come to Nicholls and make history.
“I overheard Dr. Galliano in a conversation basically saying the same thing as my coach,” Hill said. “ He said it was time that Nicholls got this done. The white president of Nicholls and my black high school coach were both saying the same thing. I respected my coach of course, and I learned to respect Dr. Galliano later on.”
Although Hill grew up playing “sandlot” basketball, he joined his first organized basketball team at his high school in 1964. He never planned on playing college basketball.
“I didn’t really start to take [basketball] seriously until probably the early part of my senior year,” Hill said. I just never considered that I would be good enough.”
Growing up, he admired Bill Russell and Muhammad Ali. Russell and Ali were athletes that represented the type of athlete and person that Hill wanted to be.
“I love Bill Russell and what he stood for,” Hill said. “No matter how much he seemed to be down and out, he always found a way to come back and win. Muhammad Ali was a great influence. He was a guy that didn’t know how to quit. I wanted to be somebody that would never ever give up, no matter how bad things got.”
Hill entered Nicholls as a history major with hopes of becoming an attorney. When his junior year came around, his plans changed. Hill graduated with a degree in liberal arts with a focus on history and a minor in government.
Hill has been part of the Nicholls community as a student, assistant coach, professor and dean. He’s served time in the military, been a junior high teacher, principal of the Max Charter School and a part of three charter school boards. He’s currently an associate professor of education and leadership at the University of Holy Cross in New Orleans and on the board of commissioners at Thibodaux Regional Medical Center.
“In the military service, college athletics and teaching profession, you probably meet more people and form more lasting relationships than you do in any other professions,” Hill said.
Hill advised students and student-athletes of the Nicholls community to put 100 percent effort into everything they do.
“Be the best that you can be at everything you try to do,” Hill said. “The sad thing is that there are people who will try to make young athletes think that they have to make a choice between their academic and athletic life. You don’t have to make a choice.”