A Fall Classic: Russ Meade Remembers the Legacy of Rosemary and William “Sonnyman” Hill

The Hill family has produced some of the greatest athletes the City of Lynn has ever known. Kenny Hill pitched in the Major Leagues. Tony Hill was an All-New England selection in football and baseball at URI where he is an inductee in the Hall of Fame.

And the tradition of this amazing sports family continues. Kenny Hill Jr. was the starting quarterback at Texas A&M and is now an assistant coach at TCU. His brother, Marcus Hill, plays baseball at Eastern Kentucky University. Jeff Hill Jr., son of former star athlete and IAABO basketball referee Jeff Hill, is one of Lynn’s best multi-sport high school performers.

From left, Bob Keaney, Kenny Hill, Frank Colella, and Russ Meade, pictured at Walter Flynn Field, home of the West Lynn American Little League.

Mrs. Rosemary Hill was the matriarch of the great West Lynn-based Hill family. Mrs. Hill died on August 27 at the age of 81. She was married to legendary Lynn Little League leader and coach, William “Sonnyman” Hill. When Mr. Hill passed in 1990 at the age of 52, his friends and associates decided to name an award in his honor, the “Sonnyman Hill Sportsmanship Award” which was presented annually to a graduating player in the city who demonstrated character, leadership, and sportsmanship qualities and performed community service. The “Sonnyman” became the most prestigious award of all and a banquet was held each year where the nominees and their families were invited and the winner was announced.

Russ Meade, a 1968 graduate of St. Mary’s High School, goes back to the late 1960s with the Hill family when he served as a Little League coach with Mr. Hill. It is one of the longest remaining connections to the beginnings of the Hill family’s dominance on the Lynn sports scene. Like noted broadcaster John Hoffman, Meade has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Hill family’s contribution to the Lynn sports scene.

Russ Meade, a former sportswriter for the Lynn Sunday Post, talked about his many years of friendship with William and Rosemary Hill and their years of involvement in Lynn sports.

Coaching in West Lynn

National and American

Russ Meade coached with manager Bob Howard in the former West Lynn National Little League in the late 1960s.

“We had the Little League draft and Bob selected Willie Hill, the oldest of the Hill sons,” recalled Meade. “Bob knew how talented Willie was and selected him as a 9-year-old, so Willie could play four years in the Major League Division.”

Bob Howard asked Bill “Sonnyman” Hill – who never missed one of his son Willie’s games – to join the coaching staff. Two years later, they drafted Roosevelt Hill and then Bobby Hill. The Hill baseball dynasty had begun.

“Tony was eight years old and his father, Sonnyman, would bring him to our Major League practices and Tony could hit 12-year-old pitching when he was eight years old.”

Some observers say that Willie and Tony were the best all-around athletes in the family though the other brothers were certainly in that elite athlete category as well.

“The Hill family then moved to King’s Lynne, so technically they were in West Lynn American territory,” recalled Meade. “Sonnyman and Rosemary decided to enroll their sons in West Lynn American League because Walter Flynn Field was closer to their residence. Mr. Hill got involved as a coach of the White Sox team with Walter Marshall in West Lynn American Little League. So Tony Hill, Kenny Hill, and Jeff Hill all played the majority of their careers in West Lynn American.”

Frank Colella, who had grown up with Sonnyman Hill in Lynn, became the manager of the WLA White Sox. “Sonnyman didn’t want to be the manager. He just wanted to be the coach,” recalled Meade, who was also on the coaching staff. “Sonnyman was a wonderful coach, always encouraging his players and teaching them how to improve their skills.’

Rosemary Hill, who worked at General Electric for 35 years before her retirement, was a spectator at every game, inspiring her sons and all the players on the team, according to Meade.

Founding the Sonnyman

Hill Sportsmanship Award

When Mr. Hill passed away in 1990 two days before Father’s Day, Meade and others including Bob Keaney, and Frank Colella thought, “Wouldn’t it nice if we could do something in Sonnyman’s memory?”

The decision was made to start the Sonnyman Hill Sportsmanship Award for Little League Baseball in the city.

“Frank called Rosemary Hill to see if she was on board with the idea of naming an award in memory of her husband,” recalled Meade. “Rosemary was very supportive and generous. Frank called her ‘Romay,’ which was the short version of Rosemary. Sonnyman and Bill were just wonderful, helpful parents, who rooted for everyone on both teams.”

Former District 16 Administrator Alice O’Neil was also a big supporter of the Sonnyman Hill Sportsmanship Award. The late Mrs. O’Neil loved the idea of a banquet in honor of the nominee from the different Little Leagues in the city. The awards banquet came to be held annually at the Lynn Housing Authority Hall. The Hill family would  be in attendance at the banquet. Frank McElligott and Joe Gill eventually became chairpersons of the award selection committee.

Rosemary and Sonnyman

Hill’s positive impact

Rosemary and Sonnyman Hill will forever be remembered for the positive impact they had on so many lives in the city.

Russ Meade remembers one particular story of sportsmanship and grace that you just don’t see in today’s highly competitive sports scene.

“The Hill sons were really good talents and most of them were pitchers,” said Meade. “If a kid hit a home run against one of his sons, Sonnyman Hill would tell his son to meet the home run hitter rounding third base and shake his hand because he believed that player deserved credit.

“That’s what you do – you be a good sport about it,” Meade recalled Sonnyman Hill saying to his sons. “Sonnyman instilled that sportsmanship in his children and I commend that gesture [congratulating a home run hitter] as being the right thing to do, thought not everyone agrees.”

As stated in a beautifully written tribute in an obituary that appeared in the Daily Item, “Rosemary Hill’s life was a living example of dedication and she will be greatly missed by all.”

Rosemary and William “Sonnyman” Hill did so much for Lynn, helping to make it a better community for all. Their children, Linda, Eula, Willie, Tony, Ken, Roosevelt, Robert, and Jeffrey – and Brian McCormack, can be rightfully proud of what these two beloved community leaders contributed to this city.

The Hill family’s 15 grandchildren and eight great-great grandchildren can also take pride in their accomplishments and contributions, especially their lasting impact on Little League Baseball and sports in the city.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.