Dr. Thomas Hill – Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame
Track & Field, 1966-77
Cohen High School/Arkansas State/1972 Olympics
Dr. Thomas Hill, who developed into one of the best hurdlers in the world as well as a well-respected academic leader on multiple college campuses, grew up in the Magnolia Housing Project and attended Cohen High School, where he was a standout high jumper, earning a scholarship to Arkansas State.
It was at Arkansas State that Hill became an elite hurdler. He was a five-time NCAA All-American and the 1970 NCAA indoor champion in the 60-yard hurdles. At a U.S. Track and Field Federation meet in Wichita in 1970, Hill posted a world-record time of 13.1 seconds in the prelims of the 110-meter hurdles. Unfortunately meet officials weren’t prepared for his excellence and they had not activated the wind gauge, denying him the official record. In the finals, he posted a time of 13.2 seconds to match the official record.
Also during the 1970 season, he won the Drake Relays, the U.S. National Championships and the national AAU meet. Following the season, he won five of six races in Europe and was named the world’s top hurdler by Track & Field News.
Courtesy of Arkansas State Athletics
He was the number one ranked hurdler in the world in 1970, but he tore his ACL in a December meet. At a time when an ACL injury was devastating to athletes’ careers, Hill rehabbed and didn’t compete during the 1971 season, but he returned for a second-place finish at the NCAA Championships in 1972.
He also continued to pursue his ultimate dream – the Olympics. Following the NCAA Championships in 1972, Hill earned Gold at the U.S. Olympic Trials, defeating 1968 Olympic Gold Medalist Willie Davenport and fellow Louisianan Rodney Milburn. In Munich, Hill would earn the Bronze medal (Milburn won Gold).
“[The Olympics were] one of those peak experiences as an athlete,” Hill told AStateRedWolves.com in 2013. “It was one of those moments that was almost surreal. As I look back on it, it was really one of those great experiences because I got an opportunity to travel the world, visit countries I had only read about, compete against world-class athletes and meet different athletes from all over the word.”
The 6-2 Hill had world records in the 60-meter high hurdles (7.3) second) and the 50-yard high hurdles (5.8 seconds) and also set a pair of NCAA records (110-meter high hurdles and the 60-yard high hurdles).
“I was able to accomplish a lot, but I think one of the most remarkable things was the progress I was able to make from the time I arrived,” Hill said of his time at Arkansas State. “When I first got to campus I ran a 15.4 in the hurdles and by the end of my second season I was down to a 13.2, which is really quite the feat to do in track and field.”
Hill, who was the Arkansas Amateur Athlete of the Year for three straight years (1970-72), was a member of the ROTC at Arkansas State and earned his bachelor of science as a distinguished military graduate in 1972. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and served as an assistant coach and Adjutant General Officer at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, while still competing from 1972-76.
In 1973, he equaled his personal best of 13.2 to win the AAU Championship and then finished second in 1974. In 1976, he won another AAU Championship, but was only a finalist in the 1976 Olympic Trials, narrowly missing making his second Olympic Team.
He earned his master’s degree from C.W. Post on Long Island in 1976.
He would coach and serve as an assistant athletic director at Arkansas State, Tulane and Oklahoma before earning his doctorate from the University of Florida in 1985. With his full-time focus on overall college life, Dr. Hill served as the Dean for Student Services at Florida. He would go on to serve as the Senior Vice President of Student Affairs at Iowa State from 1997 until his retirement in 2016.
Hill is also a member of the Arkansas State Athletics Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. He was selected as a Distinguished Alumnus of Arkansas State University in 1989.
MORE READING: “Throwback Thursday“, Arkansas State Athletics, July 18, 2013
“The Night a Hurdler’s World Record was Denied by an Imaginary Wind“, Coeur D’Alene Press, July 5, 2020