Columbia resident Darryl Hill, the first African-American man to play collegiate football in the Atlantic Coast Conference, received a standing ovation Tuesday when he was honored by the Maryland General Assembly.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch likened Hill, who began playing football for the University of Maryland in 1963, to another African-American sports pioneer.
"Darryl Hill is to Southern college football what Jackie Robinson is to baseball," Busch said.
The lawmakers' joint resolution honored Hill, 70, for not only integrating ACC college sports 50 years ago, but for his Howard County-based efforts to tackle economic barriers that prevent Maryland youth from participating in organized sports.
Hill was met with resounding applause when he took to the podium and spoke of his role in the state's history, and he marveled at the fact that Maryland was the first state south of the Mason-Dixon Line to integrate college sports.
"I want to point out how proud the state of Maryland needs to be. When I entered college sports 50 years ago, children of color, young people of color could not play at the college of their choice in the South," Hill said.
Hill, a Washington native, played football first at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and transferred after a year to Maryland.
He said the university notified the ACC that it was bringing in an African-American player. Hill said the university met resistance but stood its ground.
"The University of Maryland and the state of Maryland needs to be very, very proud of the fact that they were the first to … take this wall down," he said.
Hill reflected on life on the road with the Terps as the team traveled to segregated establishments, and noted how his coaches, teammates and then-university President Wilson Elkins supported him during the hard task of challenging segregation.
"The team backed me every time. They changed their dining patterns," Hill said, adding that team's position was, "If he can't stay, we won't stay."
Lawmakers laughed when Hill recalled that African-American staff of the establishments they patronized sometimes offered the team gifts of pecan pies, fried chicken and po'boy sandwiches — and his teammates quickly came to prefer those locations.
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Today, Hill works with his nonprofit, Kids Play USA Foundation, a North Laurel organization that aims to make organized sports affordable and available to all children.
"Fifty years ago, I fought against racial discrimination so that young people were allowed to play sports at the college of their choice," Hill said. "Now I am fighting against economic discrimination in youth sports."
He referred to the issue as a "pay-to-play" phenomenon that is leaving underprivileged children at a disadvantage.
The nonprofit gathers donations from individuals and businesses to sponsor teams or players to help defray families' costs, and also lobbies the government and manufacturers of sports equipment to help.
Hill called on lawmakers to join him in his efforts to make youth sports in the state more affordable.
"Sports belong to all children," Hill said. "Our objective is to make Maryland a leader in this regard."
Gov. Martin O'Malley, who attended the same high school as Hill — Gonzaga College High School in Washington — was on hand as Hill was honored. University of Maryland President Wallace Lohand athletic director Kevin Anderson were also at the State House, as were two of Hill's grandchildren.