Founders Hall (2012)
Frank Bissell was captain of the undefeated 1932 football team and the inter-form wrestling champion during his sixth form year at The Hill, as wrestling was not yet a varsity sport at The Hill, and then went on to have an outstanding wrestling career at The University of Michigan.
He is best remembered for his coaching ability, however. He became the head wrestling coach in 1947, and by his retirement in 1973 he had amassed a career record of 243-66-5 and guided the wrestling team to 17 Prep National Championships.
During his tenure, 44 wrestlers claimed individual national championships, and six were named the Outstanding Wrestler at Nationals. He prepared his squads for post-season tournaments by scheduling top public school and college freshman teams during the regular season.
His success as a coach didn’t depend on recruiting but rather on his ability to create wrestlers, in many cases out of boys lacking any identifiable athletic talent. Some of those boys who entered the school as unathletic third formers became champions as sixth formers. Frank instilled in his boys a mindset that doing anything less than their best was not enough and created a championship culture.
He also was the head football coach from 1953 until 1964, leading the 1953, 1955, and 1957 teams to undefeated seasons. Frank Bissell was elected into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2012.
Sabin Carr holds the unique distinction of having been a first-team All-American in his second best event, the javelin throw, but not in his best event, the pole vault. As a fifth former, Carr set a school and state record in the javelin with a throw of 173-1, making him the ninth farthest thrower in U.S. high school history at that point in time. He had been a good pole vaulter, but in 1924 he blossomed in the vault, setting three state records and eventually clearing 12-9 to win the Eastern Olympic Trials, becoming the third-highest high school vaulter in U.S. history in the process. His school record in the pole vault stood for 38 years. Sabin continued to excel in the pole vault throughout his collegiate years, and on May 28, 1927 he set the world record in the event, becoming the first person ever to clear 4.27 meters (14 feet), which was considered a major milestone at that point using poles much less flexible and forgiving than the poles used today. He qualified for the 1928 Olympics and won the gold medal in the pole vault.
Henry Colbath coached varsity track from 1910-1952, a span unrivaled by any other coach at The Hill. For the first 20 years, Michael Sweeney was active and the coach of some events. His name often eclipsed Henry’s but as the records show, Henry was one of the most successful coaches in the school’s history. He produced many championship teams and winners of the Interscholastics. He developed individuals who became record-breakers of Olympians. Some of his greatest performers were developed from mediocrity or even complete inexperience. To Henry, track was more than a competitive sport; it was something intensely human and personal. He had an unfailing geniality and was able to give self-confidence to those who were struggling. Through his guidance many boys found themselves, or found a real place in the school. As students and alumni they responded to the “Coach” in kind. He spent his final years as the School's alumni director and was able to re-connect many alumni to the School, as he was well-remembered by generations of alumni. Memorials to Henry include the Colbath Lecture Room in the Science Building and the chair of the science department.
Briggs Cunningham is best known for his sailing and race car driving prowess. He learned to sail at the age of six, and at age 17 joined the Star Class racing fleet at the Pequot Yacht Club in Southport, Conn. He is most known for sailing in the 1958 America’s Cup races when he skippered the 12-meter sloop, Columbia, and was victorious in defending the Cup against a British Challenger. He continued to sail the Columbia through the 1960s as a member of the New York Yacht Club and during that time developed a “Cunningham,” which is a device that adjusts sailboat tension. Briggs’ interest in race cars began after attending the World’s Fair. He raced several times in the 24 hour race at Le Mans, and in 1951 entered the race with the Cunningham CR-4, a car he designed and built, which was hailed as America’s first sports car. He and his racing partner placed fourth in the 1952 race. He was inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame in 1993, the Motor Sports Hall of Fame in 2003, and the Sports Car Club of America Hall of Fame in 2010. He also was generous benefactor of The Hill, providing major funds for the Cunningham Pool, Bissell Wrestling Room, and Pine Court faculty village.
Tom Eccleston, Jr. was a well-known name in the hockey community before he arrived at The Hill. He founded the ice hockey program in Burrillville, Rhode Island in the late 1930s and coached there until he moved onto Providence College, where he was head coach from 1956-64. He compiled a career record of 94-72-5 at Providence, and in 1964 he was named the NCAA Coach of the Year after guiding the Friars to the NCAA Championship game. He arrived at The Hill in 1972 and transformed the hockey program. Prior to his arrival, the hockey team had been good, but was unable to consistently compete with the cold-weather New England schools, and therefore was not considered a New England hockey program. Tom used his connections from Rhode Island and his college coaching experience to attract high end players to The Hill and quickly transformed the hockey program into one that could compete with New England's best year after year. He quickly became known for instilling a strong sense of discipline in his players that was instrumental in the team truly playing as a team and achieving strong results. He retired at the conclusion of the 1982-83 season having amassed a career record of 185-57-12 at The Hill, and six of the 11 teams he coached at Hill are in the Trophy Room.
At The Hill, Clare played in the backfield in football and shortstop and pitcher in baseball. Upon graduation from The Hill, the New York Times declared he was one of the three best prep football players that year. He did not play tennis at Hill, but he won many tennis championships throughout New England during the summers. At Yale, he played third base and in football he was the quarterback, but in key situations he played fullback. During his senior year at Yale, he was named to the Walter Camp College Football All-American team; keep in mind, this was in the day when only 11 players were elected to the team. He was popular among the Yale student body. He was voted the handsomest man in his Yale class and the most popular. Upon his graduation in 1897, Clare was voted the member of his class who had done the most for Yale. After graduating from Yale, Clare spent a few years coaching football at The Hill. He then went into banking where he rose to president and CEO of the Greenwich Savings Bank in New York. He was a trustee of The Hill. His greatest contribution to The Hill came in 1920 when the Alumni bought the School from the Meigs family. Through him, the alumni were able to secure the loans needed to buy the school.
Jimmy Gillison arrived at The Hill School in the fall of 1924 as a second former. He was a starting member of the football, basketball and baseball teams even though he was never able to be a sixth former. On July 22, 1928, Jimmy and a friend were driving in a car near Jimmy's home on Long Island when the steering wheel came off in the driver's hand. They crashed into a pole, and Jimmy was killed. His aunt, who was his legal guardian, gave the funds for building Gillison Court in Jimmy's memory. At the dedication of the Gillison Court the following words were spoken. "Besides being a commendable student while at the School, Jimmy was a member of the boards of the three publications, end on the football team, pitcher on the baseball team, guard in basketball, for three years school boxing champion, member of the form hockey team, president of 'DRAMAT' and treasurer of the Press Club. Beginning in fourth form, he was a member of the cooperative government committee and also interested in many other extracurricular activities. A most commendable record." After Jimmy's death, Mr. Denman, a faculty member, wrote the following words to his aunt: "Words are a poor medium to express what is in one's heart, or to bring comfort to another's when in trouble; yet I thought it might help you all to know how much we admired the boy and how greatly we shall miss him." In June, 1929, Jimmy Gillison posthumously was awarded a Hill School diploma.
Sam Horner was a key member of the undefeated 1955 football team as the team's top ball carrier. In the pool, he captained the 1955-1956 team that finished with a 9-1 record, losing only to the Yale freshman team. He swam on the record-setting 200 free relay and was the 50 free champion at Easterns that year. He was elected as captain of the 1956 golf team but was unable to play, so he ran track. After graduating from The Hill he went on to play collegiately at the Virginia Military Institute. In 1958, he was on the All-Southern Team and All-American team having been fifth in the nation with six yards per carry, and also ranked fifth in the nation with 42.5 yards per kick. Sam then embarked on a three-year professional football career becoming the first Hill alumnus to play in a professional sports league. He played for the Washington Redskins in 1960 & 1961 as a running back, defensive back, punter, and kick returner. In 1962, he was traded to the New York Giants where he was a backup defensive back and returned kicks-offs and punts. When he retired from the NFL, he went back to the University of Georgia Veterinary School and earned a DVM degree. He practiced Equine Medicine and Surgery for 40 years in the Atlanta, Ga. area until his retirement in 2008. Sam was inducted into the VMI Sports Hall of Fame in 1973, and in 2000 he was the Georgia Equine Veterinarian of the Year.
Lamar Hunt was named one of ESPN’s top 12 global sports promoters of all time, and could be considered the top sports promoter in the United States. A Dallas, Texas native, Hunt began approaching the National Football League in the late 1950s with the intention of establishing a team in Dallas. Frustrated by multiple rejections, he organized a group of other prospective owners and established the American Football League as a rival to the NFL in 1960 and formed the Dallas Texans. The Dallas Cowboys entered the NFL the same year and continually drew attention from the Texans. In 1963, Hunt moved the team to Kansas City and renamed it the Chiefs. When the AFL and NFL decided to have their respective league champions play each other in a decisive championship game, it was Lamar who came up with the name of “Super Bowl” for the game. The two leagues merged into one in 1970 and changed their respective names to American and National Football Conference, and the AFC championship trophy was named after Lamar. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1972, one of seven major sports halls of fame that he is a member of. He also was responsible for the formation of the North American Soccer League, which existed from 1967-84 and attracted international superstars such as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, and George Best to the United States, as well as World Championship Tennis, a pro tennis circuit that ran from 1967-89. He also was a founder of the currently successful Major League Soccer in 1996, and owned the Kansas City Wizards team (currently known as Sporting KC). In 1999, the US Open Cup, a knockout style tournament formed in 1914 that is open to all of the professional soccer teams in America, was renamed the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
If any name is synonymous with Hill Athletics, it is David H. Mercer. He arrived at The Hill as the Assistant Director of Physical Education in 1948, and for 12 years worked to enhance the school’s physical education program, as it was separate from interscholastic athletics at the time. He became the director of athletics (AD) in 1960, serving in that capacity until 1990. Hill athletics flourished under his guidance. During his time as AD, lacrosse became a varsity sport, and skiing and water polo were added as interscholastic sports (skiing disbanded in the mid-1990s), and facility improvements included the construction of the Bissell Wrestling Room, Annan Strength Center, and the replacement of the old cinder track with an all-weather track in the early 1980s. Despite his interest and involvement in athletics, David was never a head varsity coach, saying he felt that it would compromise his position as the AD, though he was an assistant football and track coach and served as the head coach of many junior varsity and junior teams. He remained involved in Hill athletics even after his retirement from the school, often serving as the head timer at track meets. Upon his retirement, former Headmaster Chuck Watson noted that wherever he traveled, David’s name was mentioned by alumnus after alumnus, a true testament to the impact he had on more than 6300 boys to pass through The Hill.
Alberto Mestre became the first person in School history to participate in the Olympics while currently being a student at The Hill. He represented Venezuela in the 1980 Olympics following his fourth form year while he was only 15 years old. He had a major impact on the swimming program in the early 1980s. Alberto swam on the Eastern Interscholastic Champion 400 freestyle relay in 1980, and in 1981 and ’82 claimed the 100 yard freestyle championship. He set school records in the 50, 100, and 200 yard freestyle, swam on the record-setting 200 and 400 yard freestyle relays, and still has Hill’s pool record for the 100 yard freestyle, which has withstood the test of time despite numerous visits from national powers such as Mercersburg, Peddie, and Germantown Academy. After graduating from The Hill, Alberto went on to swim for the University of Florida, where he was a member of 1983 and 1984 NCAA Men’s Swimming National Championship teams and 1985 NCAA runners-up. In 1983, he was member of American/NCAA record setting 800 free relay and the NCAA Champion 400 free relay. At the 1983 Pan-Am Games, he won a silver medal in the 200 meter freestyle and a bronze medal in the 100 meter freestyle. In 1984, he swam on the relay that re-set its own 800 free NCAA record, and individually placed second in the 100 free and fifth in the 200 free. He again represented Venezuela in the 1984 Olympics, where he was the youngest finalist in the 200 meter freestyle, finishing in fourth. Alberto currently is a senior executive for Venezuelan Olympic Swimming.
Tom Northrup was not on the losing end of very many athletic contests during his two years at The Hill. The cross country team went undefeated both years, and the basketball team's record over his two seasons as a team member was 30-4, including a perfect 17-0 in 1963-64; no basketball team has gone undefeated since. Tom served as team captain of both the undefeated cross country and basketball teams in his sixth form year. He also set records in all three sports in which he participated at The Hill. He set the cross country school record with a time of 11:46, and then re-set it at 11:40; he led the basketball team with 305 points in 1962-63 and set a single-game record of 37 points, and set a new single-season scoring record with 372 the following season. On the track he set the 880 yard run record with a time of 1:55.7. He received the Wilbur C. Riley Memorial Award for outstanding leadership and high sportsmanship in competitive athletics at the 1964 commencement ceremony. He went on to play intercollegiate basketball at the University of Pennsylvania, earning letters every year and captaining the team his senior year. He twice was named to the "Honorable mention All-Ivy" team. He began a long career in education at Chestnut Hill Academy, where he was the head varsity basketball coach from 1968-1980. After departing CHA, he became the Headmaster of the (other) Hill School in Middleburg, Va. It came as no surprise to his classmates that he chose to dedicate his life's work to the education and the future promise of youth. Tom remained involved with The Hill throughout his career, most recently returning to pay tribute to long-time basketball coach Don Ronnie. He also organized a memorial service for former Hill faculty member Bonnell Gardner '64.
Dick O'Shaughnessy made a significant impact on Hill athletics as both an athlete and a long-time coach. He came to The Hill as a post-grad and was a key member of the undefeated 1949 football team as well as the National Prep Champion wrestling team, winning a national title in his weight class. He went on to play football and wrestle at the University of Michigan, where he was the captain of the football team in 1953. He returned to The Hill in 1959 as an instructor of science and assistant director of athletics and physical education, and took over as the head football coach in 1964, a position he held for 20 years. His coaching tactics in the 1965 Lawrenceville game led the underdog Hill team to a last-second victory in what has gone down as one of the most legendary athletic contests in school history. His final team was perhaps his strongest, posting a 6-2 record. After beating Lawrenceville 24-14 at Lawrenceville, the players carried their triumphant coach off the field. A tribute to him on the football page of the 1984 Dial reads “As any member will attest, Mr. O’Shaughnessy gave himself to the team during every moment of the season. This included the brutal pre-season practices as well as the lavish dinners that he and his equally caring wife provided every Friday evening. He was a friend on and off the field, gladly giving advice and comfort at any time.”
Harry Price led the lacrosse program to some of its most successful years during his two separate tenures as head coach, climaxing with a State Championship in 1986. Keep in mind that in those days, the State tournament featured both public and private schools, unlike the Independent School state tournaments in which we currently participate, which are only comprised of private schools. In his first stint as head coach, he guided the 1973 team to the State Championship game and was named PA Coach of the Year, as the team finished with a 12-3 record. He repeated the feat in the first season of his second stint, as the 1984 team finished with a 16-3 record and reached the State Final. He again was named PA Coach of the Year. His teams reached the State semi-finals in 1975, '85, '89, and '95; the State quarterfinals in '87, '90, and '94; and won the Suburban League in 1984, '85, '87, '89, and '90. In 1999, he was inducted into the Tri-County Chapter of the PA Sports Hall of Fame. Harry finished his career by coaching at Pottsgrove High School from 2002-06. At the conclusion of his coaching career, he had coached 11 High School All-Americans and 11 players who went on to become College All-Americans (10 of them being Hill alumni). In 2006, he received Summit Award as Most Influential Person in Sports in Northern Montgomery, Southern Berks, and Northern Chester Counties, and in 2007 he was inducted into Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
Wilbur "Jack" Riley came to the Hill in 1936 to coach the football team and was a member of the faculty from 1936 until his death in 1954. An alumnus of Ft. Hays State College in Kansas, where he was an all-star basketball and football player, Jack returned to his alma mater in 1930 to coach their football team. From Kansas he came to the Hill School. Jack coached the Hill team from 1936 to 1942, when World War II interrupted his career. He entered the United States Navy, serving for three years as athletic coach for pre-flight trainees. He separated from the Navy as a Lieutenant Commander in 1945 and returned to The Hill. He was a house master for many Hill boys and enjoyed coaching and teaching. One of his proudest achievements was coaching the School's undefeated 1949 team featuring Lamar Hunt, who later established the American Football League. He became the School’s athletic director in 1950, a position that he held in conjunction with being the head football coach before a heart attack during the 1952 Peddie School game ended his coaching career. Jack spent his final years teaching at the Hill. He died in the spring of 1954. Shortly after his death, the Wilbur C. Riley Award was established. The Riley Award is given annually at commencement to the sixth form boy who has “distinguished himself in leadership and sportsmanship in competitive athletics” and is considered the top athletic accolade a boy can receive at The Hill.
Mike Sweeney was hired in 1896 to develop an athletic program that would involve every student, effectively making him the first director of athletics in school history. His program became well known and was copied by many other schools. Yale University tried to hire him away, but he remained loyal to Hill, though the School did gave him a year off to go and set up a similar program at Yale. When Mike came to The Hill, he was well known for track, as he was the holder of the world record for the running high jump at the time. Many students came to The Hill just to be coached by Mike Sweeney. Also, many nearby track stars would come to The Hill workouts just to gain from Mike's instruction. He developed many athletes who continued running in college and also several Olympic runners. Mike also made a name for himself as a football coach. When Mike Sweeney came to The Hill he knew nothing about football. He studied the game from the time he was hired until the time he began his Hill School career, and it did not take long for him to establish a successful program. In his approximately 15 years of coaching football, seven of his teams finished undefeated, and two of them were un-scored upon. Sweeney Gymnasium was built in his honor while he was still a member of the faculty.
Dave Willman earned an astonishing 14 varsity letters during his five years at The Hill. As a second former, he lettered in wrestling and was the designated hitter on the varsity baseball team. He made the jump to the varsity football team his third form year, and lettered every season of his third, fourth, fifth, and sixth form years. Dave anchored the football team as a linebacker and was a captain of the undefeated 1987 team, which currently stands as the last football team to go undefeated. He excelled on the wrestling mat, serving as team captain in 1987-88. He advanced to the third place match at Prep Nationals in 1986 and '87, and in 1988 earned a second place finish at nationals. His best sport arguably was baseball. Dave starred on some of Hill's strongest baseball teams and was a highly feared hitter — with several professional scouts in attendance at the Lawrenceville game during his sixth form year, he was intentionally walked in every at-bat. The Philadelphia Phillies drafted him, but he chose to attend college, instead. Dave played for the University of South Carolina for four years and was drafted again, this time by the Milwaukee Brewers. He was the MVP of the Southeast Conference and played professionally in the Brewers organizations before his career was cut short by injury. He has remained involved in the Hill baseball program, frequently returning as a hitting coach.