ROCKFORD – For serving as inspiration for the state-bound East E-Rabs, Greg Hill is our first posthumous Athlete of the Week. Hill was shot and killed the summer before his sophomore year at East, but has left a lasting impact on his teammates.
“I’ve been playing through him the whole season,” senior forward Sha’den Clanton said. “It’s all for him.”
Chris Burnell is the unquestioned leader of the E-Rabs. He says he always keeps Greg in his thoughts, and basketball allows him a chance to get his mind together on tough days.
“Playing basketball helps me grieve and I let my emotions out,” Burnell said. “Especially if I have a bad day. I get to the gym and it’s a lovely thing. It helps me relieve a lot of stress.”
East head coach Roy Sackmaster saw Greg’s potential even as a freshman in the basketball program.
“We’d be even better with him because we knew how good of a player he was going to be,” Sackmaster said. “For our guys to go out and do this in a season in which he would have been a senior, just makes it that much more meaningful to what we’re doing this year.”
What they’re doing is unprecedented. Their 34 wins are an all-time record for a NIC-10 team in a season. This is the school’s first appearance at state since 1978, and its 4th ever trip to the state semifinals. The other two trips were in the 1940s. Greg Hill’s mom, Nekita Hill, has embraced this team and has been along for the ride this season.
“It kind of makes a bad situation even better, knowing that I have these kids behind me,” she said. “We’re doing this for Greg. We’re doing something positive instead of doing something negative. This is something he loved to do. It makes it that much more special.”
It’s been a very special season for the E-Rabs. They get two more games to play for Greg Hill, as they try to achieve the ultimate goal to remember their friend.