Jon Hill was just one miss away. One brush of the bar, one awkward takeoff, one slight misstep and his state championship hopes were over. He couldn’t even remember the last time he had missed at 6 feet, 4 inches in the high jump, yet two times in a row he had failed to clear it.
But, as they say, the “third time’s the charm.” And it was. Four years ago, then a junior at Walkersville High School, Hill cleared 6-4 on his final try and didn’t miss a single height the rest of the meet, all the way to 7 feet, 1/4 inch.
Hill now is a rising senior at the University of Maryland, but his coach recalls that moment.
“I think the entire meet just stopped,” Walkersville coach Lee Palmer said. “The entire place just erupted. I just remember everyone being in awe of him.”
He set a Maryland outdoor state record for all classifications that day four years ago and is still just one of two athletes in state history to clear 7 feet. He cleared that height three more times before his 17th birthday.
“I just knew 7 feet was there,” Hill remembers. “I knew as soon as I took off. I knew I hit it and I started going crazy.”
Less than four months prior, Hill had done something that three-time Olympic coach Jack Griffin says nobody on the East Coast had ever accomplished.
Competing in tennis shoes on the Hagerstown Community College basketball court for the 2A West Region championship, Hill cleared 7-1, which Palmer says Griffin told him had never been done by an athlete on the East Coast on such a surface.
His monstrous performance in that 2007-08 season earned him the Gatorade Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year for Maryland.
“He was a great all-around kid to have on our program,” Palmer said. “He could do anything.”
Even as a freshman in his first year on the Walkersville track, Hill wowed his coaches. Palmer had never heard of Hill before his first season. He saw him in his gym classes and watched him in practice as he cleared 5-6 on his first day, but then “he just exploded,” Palmer said.
“He just kept going up and up and up.”
It took Hill less than a year to reach the 6-foot milestone. Jumps coach Pat Casadonte told him that if he put in a little more time he could land a scholarship.
Her prediction proved right on point.
Hill gave up basketball and joined the indoor track team. Within a year of his conversation with Casadonte he added 13 inches to his jump.
“Right away you could tell he was special,” Palmer said. “He had a lot of idiosyncrasies that tipped you off he was something special. He was dynamite in the classroom, he was a great leader. He put himself in situations where people looked up to him.”
As a senior he was heavily recruited, drawing visits from coaches at the University of Texas, Penn State, Auburn and Maryland.
Hill chose Texas and left behind state and school record books that he had rewritten. He still owns the Lions’ record in the high jump, long jump and triple jump, and also ran with the record-holding 800-meter relay team.
“Anything below the 400 he was a beast,” Palmer said. “He could destroy, honestly.”
After Hill’s freshman year at Texas he transferred to Maryland. On May 26, Hill earned a trip to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, for the NCAA Track and Field Championships after clearing 7-2 1/4 in the East Preliminary meet at North Florida.
At Drake he hit a career best 7-2 1/2 to earn a 10th-place finish and a spot in the B standard Olympic Trials at the end of June. With Maryland’s men’s track program slated to be cut to a 14-man outdoor team, or perhaps eliminated entirely due to budget cuts, this could be the last chance for Hill to compete.
“I’m obviously disappointed but at the same time I’ve had two knee surgeries,” he said. “I’m starting to think long term. I’ve enjoyed every second of competing, I can’t really control it. Having a school pay for you to play sports, it’s unbelievable.”