Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

Sports

April 18, 2014

GC Basketball/Baseball: Mildred's Connor Hill sees life clearly

MILDRED — There was never any doubt for Connor Hill, never any question about what he would do or how he would do it.

Sure, there was that meeting with his mother and father and talks with the doctor when he was 10, talks and meetings that came accompanied with worry and concern.

But never from Connor.

He just never dwelled on the fact he played sports with one eye. He didn't worry or talk about it when he was 10 and he never talked about it at Mildred High, where Hill emerged as a star on the basketball court and baseball diamond.

“I never even knew about it when he was in junior high,'' said Mildred baseball Coach Aaron Tidwell. “I found out when Connor was in high school. Once he played baseball for me I found out. I didn't believe it. I thought it was a joke. You would never know.''

It has never bothered Hill or even slowed him down, and that's what he told his parents when the family sat down and talked about Connor's future. He was in fifth grade and his left eye had been injured badly. The family initially believed the injury is why he had impaired vision, but doctors told them later that Connor had been born with impaired vision in his left eye.

He never complained about it, and when the decision had to made at 10 years old, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.

“I got hit in the eye by a bat when I was 9 and then found out later that I've had it since birth,'' Hill said. “When I was in fifth grade we went to the doctor and found out. My parents were worried. There's always the chance that if you play sports you could get injured in the other eye, and we talked about what I should do. We talked, but I just knew that sports is what I love to do and I wasn't going to let them take it away from me.''

Hill never felt sorry for himself. He just approached playing sports like every other kid.

“I guess it really didn't affect me that much,'' Hill said. “I had one eye, but I had gone so many years without knowing that when I found out it didn't affect me.''

That's Hill's attitude and he learned on his own how to adjust and not only compete, but excel. He pitched for Mildred his sophomore and junior seasons and would have been on the mound this spring, but a shoulder injury has prohibited him from pitching .

“He was a great pitcher as a sophomore and junior,'' Tidwell said. “And he hit over .300. It's amazing to me he can play baseball at the varsity level with one eye. He never once used it as an excuse or even talked about it.

“You wonder how does he do it playing basketball? In basketball so much depends on your peripheral vision,'' he said. “It's really impressive.''

Tidwell and others who know baseball wonder how Hill picks up the ball when he is batting. He's a right-handed batter so his lead eye looking at pitches coming in is his left eye.

“It's always surprised me how he can be able to it at the varsity level with one eye seeing the ball and picking up the speed of the ball and the spin of the ball. It's amazing. It's crazy to think about it.''

Hill says he has gradually adjusted over the years to improve as the competition heated up, and admits that he does slightly lean in at the plate to get a better look at pitches with his right eye. But it's such a small adjustment it's not even noticeable when he is at the plate.

“I go up to the plate and never think about it,'' Hill said. “I just adjusted to it. The first time I ever batted I didn't know I had a bad eye. I thought it was normal. And later I just felt like this is the way I play. I felt like I can play and produce for my team. I don't think of it as letdown or anything holding me back.''

Hill loves basketball and when he realized he had one eye he refused to slow down on the court.

“I think one of the most amazing things is that I've been coaching here for four years and in four years he has the best court vision of anyone we've had,'' Mildred boys basketball Coach Daniel Johnston said. “Honestly, I have no idea how he does it. It's amazing to me how he can play point guard with one eye. It's phenomenal.''

Hill emerged in his senior year and was not only a first-team All-Golden Circle player, but he was the Co-MVP of District 23-2A, sharing the honor with teammate Mikey Muncy.

Hill not only ran the floor as Mildred's point guard, averaging five assists and three steals a game for the District 23-2A champion Eagles, but he has a lethal outside shot and averaged 11 points a game for a balanced team in which all five starters averaged 10 to 11 points.

“He definitely had the green light to shoot it,'' Johnston said. “It's amazing how well he shoots the ball.''

Hill said he worked harder on his shot this year than at any time before.

“I just put in the work, putting a lot of shots up, spending hours in the gym,” Hill said. “I played all summer. I knew this was my last year and I wanted to get a lot better.''

Hill will never forget the 3-pointer he hit against rival Blooming Grove.

It was in a battle for first place in the district race in the Mildred gym, and Blooming Grove had a three-point lead in the final minute of the game. Hill nailed a 3 to tie the score, but Blooming Grove snapped back with a basket and led by two points as the final seconds ticked down.

Hill fired a 3 at the buzzer that was all net.

“I think about that shot every day,'' Hill said. “It was just the heat of the moment. I wanted to pass the ball to Jase (Butler) but there wasn't enough time. I just put it up and hoped for the best.''

Hill has done more than hope for the best in his life. He's made the best of everything, and is also an honor student in the classroom.

“He's a phenomenal kid,'' Johnston said. “He's never used it for a crutch. I coached him in eighth and ninth grade and I didn't know about it until he was a sophomore. I thought it was a joke and said, 'I'm not falling for that.'

“In a game — both baseball and basketball — where hand-eye coordination has to be off the charts to succeed, and to know he did it all with one eye, it's just amazing,'' Johnston said.

Hill's drive and love for the game have always been stronger than any weakness he might have in his vision. He has always seen clearly who and what he wanted to be, and has never been deterred, playing the game with absolute joy.

“I love sports,'' said Hill, who believes he will be shooting baskets when he's 60. “I can't say I would be better with two eyes because I have never experienced it. I always felt I could play with anybody any way. When I found out there was nothing I could do. I had the mindset that this is what God dealt me. I know I can't change it so I will make the best of it.''

 

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