For years, Edison junior James Hill had admittedly been pushed around in competitive fashion by older brothers Pete and Noah — solid athletes at EHS in their own rights.
But four years ago, James was quickly catching up in size to his brothers — and it was time for the youngest of four siblings to stake his claim on the pavement of the family’s basketball court.
Playing a game of twenty-one, a popular variation of street basketball, James was closing in on a first.
“I had never won against them, and I had reached 20 points and they were both close behind,” James said. “I ended up winning, and right then, I thought, ‘I’m their equal now. I don’t have to take orders from them anymore.’
“They didn’t react much, because they didn’t want to give me the satisfaction probably,” he added. “But it was definitely always competitive with them. I got pushed around — so I had to fight to make sure they knew I’m their equal.”
Sibling rivalries aside, Hill is doing things at Edison that few have equaled.
He was All-Sandusky Bay Conference in four sports in the same year, including three first-team selections and an Outstanding Performer award. A true scholar-athlete, Hill was also a member of the Academic Challenge team that won a fifth straight Firelands Challenge in March.
He enters the final week of the high school tennis regular season ahead of the Division II sectional tournament at a perfect 17-0 — yet to be pushed to a third set by any of his opponents.
But when Hill reflects on his tennis background — that story actually begins with a different family member he’s forever indebted to.
Grandma knows best
As the youngest sibling behind Pete, Noah and sister Liz, James Hill has always been reserved and quiet by nature.
“I learned to keep my mouth shut at a young age,” James joked.
When he was eight years old, Hill’s grandmother, Mary Stauffer, handed him a racquet and taught him how to play tennis. His cousin, Jack Stauffer, was a standout player at Sandusky, reaching the quarterfinals of the Div. I district tournament as a senior in 2013.
“My brothers encouraged me to try different things, which led to me playing tennis,” Hill said. “But it all started with my grandmother, and my cousin Jack really excelled at tennis, so I looked at him as a role model
“I used the bar he set as what I wanted to also achieve,” he added. “And, I also remember losing to him four years ago, so I always wanted to get better so that one day I could beat him, too.”
When size matters
While quiet by nature, the 6-foot-3 Hill also competes with a natural aggressiveness.
“I try and use my athleticism as much as possible to my advantage,” he said. “My length comes in handy on the tennis court,” he said.
A year ago, Hill was second in the SBC to Huron’s Jake Guerrero, and lost in three sets in the opening round at the Div. II district tournament.
But this season, the numbers are impressive.
Seven of his 17 wins to date have seen Hill drop just one game in straight sets. Against 10 SBC opponents, he’s got an advantage of 120-15 in games won, and on Wednesday, Hill won the first singles SBC tournament to earn Outstanding Performer honors.
“Not to sound cliche, but James is truly one of a kind,” Edison tennis coach Ryan Meredith said. “He is a phenomenal athlete that has had great success in all sports, but more importantly, he continues to strive for success in the classroom.”
Hill’s two closest matches have come against Norwalk’s Andrew Herner (7-5, 7-6 (4) and Bellevue’s Jared Schnee (7-6 (4), 6-2). However, those two will head south to the Div. II Shelby sectional, making Hill the prohibitive favorite at the Div. II Port Clinton site next Thursday.
“Last year I had a weaker mental game than I do now,” Hill said. “I promised myself to get better at that, and I feel like I have. Instead of getting down on myself, I look forward to the next opportunity.”
History at every turn
In the fall, Hill was voted All-SBC first team as a defender in boys soccer.
Using his soccer skills to his advantage, he was also the placekicker on the football team for the Chargers, and was first team all-conference after converting 61-of-69 PATs and 4-of-4 field goals.
Hill averaged 12.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game in basketball for the Chargers, earning honorable mention honors in the conference — which led into his big spring.
All told, Hill has been a member of the only Edison football teams to win SBC titles and reach the state semifinals; the only EHS basketball teams to win an SBC championship and reach the regional semifinals; and the only boys tennis team to win an SBC title.
“I’ve definitely dreamed of achieving things like this, but I guess I never went into high school thinking I was going to try a bunch of things and excel at all of them,” Hill said. “It just worked out that way, I guess.
“The conference awards reflect the work that I put in, but also the work my coaches have put in for me,” he added. “And how my teammates make me better and allow me to perform well.”
The accomplishments to date aside, nothing was harder than being viewed as an equal at home.
“I think they’ve accepted it,” Hill said of his brothers. “But they had a lot of influence on the sports I’ve played — and how much I’ve played them.”