HARVARD -- Thirty-six years. That's longer than most companies stay in business. And that's how long Bromfield's Tom Hill has been the pivotal figure for putting Harvard's youth and high school athletics on the map, not only in Massachusetts, but across the nation.
But, if you spoke to the Bromfield School boys' soccer coach, you wouldn't think you were speaking with a man who has racked up over 550 wins throughout his legendary career as the girls' and boys' soccer coach. Hill, a native of Pennsylvania, found himself in Harvard when his father was stationed at Fort Devens and he never left.
Hill gives a lot of kudos to the Harvard community for molding a successful youth soccer program.
"If you last that long, you're going to win enough games, and if you have the talent, it speaks for the HAA soccer club. Sutton was a big soccer club, and we picked up the youth program ... my coaching was part of it ... my athletes and the town of Harvard were a big part of it," said Hill.
Hill was honored Saturday afternoon at the Bromfield boys' soccer team's game against Groton-Dunstable held at Harvard Park. Hill recently underwent surgery after a broken leg he suffered in the Sunday softball league he has participated in for the past 30-plus years.
Hill forever holds a place in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America as the 2005 recipient of the Coach of the Year Honor.
Among those wins are two back-to-back boys' soccer state championships, a small dent amongst six other state crowns he has captured over his 36 years of coaching at Bromfield. Hill's favorite memory was winning the state championship in 1986.
"The first state championship we were 20-0-0 when we beat Cohasset. We played state finals at WPI. We were one of the two best teams in the state. Everyone in the state and town were giddy. It brought the town there and more kids to the game of soccer."
Bromfield School's Athletic Director Pam Alexander talked about how her kids loved Hill.
"My kids were drawn to his legacy and couldn't wait to play for Coach Hill. His teams have won 23 district titles and eight state titles. People just want to be a part of that."
Hill spent the better part of 32 years as a full-time history and physical education teacher at the high school. He also served as the Trojans' athletic director for three years, until he stepped down in 2004.
Hill's sucessor, Alexander, can't thank him enough for what he has meant to her over the years. "He did the AD job before I got it, and he will do anything for me," said Alexander. "If I ask him to do something, he is more than happy to do it. He is willing to give me any help I need."
When people talk about the Bromfield School, or anything that has to do with the town of Harvard, nine times out of 10, Coach Hill's name will be uttered, not by his own choosing, of course. Hill has meant so much to the lives of the many people he has touched over the years. When you talk to coach Hill's closest friends, you get the sense that he has made a lasting impact with his actions, not his words.
Hill doesn't limit his community service to the sidelines of the sport he happens to be coaching -- he also volunteers at school dances and other functions around town. Hill eats, sleeps and breathes Bromfield, whether it is for Trojan athletics or other events, there is no question he will be there. Hill has been around the school for the better part of three decades -- it just wouldn't seem right without him. When the school has a half-day, Hill is out there serving pizza to students with a smile. Bromfield High School is his family and the community are his distant relatives. That's just the way it has been for so long.
People credit Hill for his humble approach and demeanor when faced with recognition. Hill trekked to Annapolis, Md., with his friend Mike Dube, and a former player for an awards banquet to recognize the nation's top coaches. Hill did not want to stay the weekend, because he wanted to get back to Harvard so he can be there for the youth basketball league he runs. If you are beginning to notice a trend, that's because there is one. Coach Hill never likes to have the limelight cast upon him. He is the type of coach who would rather stay in the shadows while his players and school sop up the glory.
Dube commented on the trip to Annapolis and what Hill's reaction was when he received the award.
"A former player's dad and I took him after winning the regional coach of the year. He didn't want to go and miss a basketball game," said Dubee. "We convinced him he should go. He took that award. He didn't know he was the national coach of the year; the award was given later out that evening. Hill wanted to get back to Harvard, being all about his team for his game the next day. A gentleman in charge of the awards committee told us we should probably find something to do with him."
Dube did just that; they took Hill on a tour of the U.S. Naval Academy to kill time before the banquet.
"Coach got his award and he was thrilled and thankful that we took him there, but he immediately wanted to get back in the vehicle and drive home so he could be back in time for the HAA recreational basketball program he ran on Saturday mornings. We wanted to take him home to celebrate, but he wanted to be home for the program," said Dube.
Retirement ... a word that Coach Hill was unable to come to grips with when he stopped teaching in 2008. He found other ways to keep himself connected to the community. Hill would often volunteer to coach other coaches' practice if they were unable to, rather than giving the players an off-day.
Hill received his degree in coaching from Springfield College in coaching baseball, tennis and football. Ironically, Hill has never coached any of the sports he studied in college, but if he did, they would probably be just as successful.
"I never had the skills as a soccer player in intramurals. I never thought of coaching soccer. Basketball I always liked, and I don't know why I never took any basketball coaching courses; you can only learn so much in a coaching course, it's about handling kids. None of those courses taught that."
Hill's career in basketball has been just as impressive, as he has racked up over 500 wins on the hardwood, as well. The big thing with Hill is respect. He only asks for respect from his players in return for the hard work and dedication. Hill's 500th win came at the end of the season last year. The disheartening thing is that nobody knew about it.
The Massachusetts High School Basketball Coaches Association automatically inducts coaches once they reach the 500-win plateau. Since Hill never reported his win to the MHSBBCA, he will now have to wait until the next ballot is cast at the end of the 2012-2013 season. According to Dube, it is the athletic director's responsibility to report the milestone victory in order to be inducted into the Hall of Fame that calendar year.
There is no official record, but Dube believes after his own extensive research that Hill is the only coach in Massachusetts history to garner 500 wins in two sports. "I am 99 percent sure he is the only coach who has done that," commented Dube.
Coach Hill's office during game week preparation could only be rivaled by that of an NFL team's "war room," when they are trying to plan out who they're going to take in the draft.
"It's all about his team, it is never about him, Dube said. "He does more scouting and recruiting when he is about to play somebody. He has files and files on the teams he is about to face. Every time I talked to him, he's on his way out the door to watch some team play."
Hill's current senior soccer players were excited to see their coach get the recognition he deserves.
Senior Dylan Osgood commented on what it is like to play for a legend like Hill. "He is a good coach he does a great job subbing kids in and knowing when people are tired. He can tell when people are working hard. We were very happy for him when he received the award. Winning wouldn't be the same without him coaching."
Sophomore forward Matt Olejarz feels that playing for Hill is a big deal. "Five hundred and fifty (wins) is a big accomplishment. I am not sure it's just Hilly, it's all the kids that work and worked for Hilly. Congratulations to him. Hopefully he can get 600 by my graduating year, 2015," joked Olejarz.
Having no children of his own, Hill treats each of the athletes he coaches as if they were his own sons or daughters -- with respect. And at the end of the day, that's all Hill asks for in return. Maybe it's his military background and upbringing, but respect is paramount.
"I like the kids here, and I feel I have made an influence on them in the correct way. I haven't had a soccer player I haven't liked. I've spent so much time there (Bromfield School) as a teacher and a coach," said Hill.
Hill wanted to assure the people of Harvard that he is entirely grateful for their support for the soccer program over the years.
"The support we have had for soccer, and me personally, has been just great. I like this town. This will always be my real hometown, and this is where I will be buried."