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George Hill Finally Receives Letter Jacket, Reunites with Favorite Teacher

by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

November 18, 2013

When George Hill stepped to the podium at the United Way of Central Indiana, he had no idea what he was in for. He was there to help announce the Hubbard Prize for Life-Changing Teachers, a $25,000 gift that will be given to four Indianapolis Public School (IPS) teachers annually for their contributions and outstanding efforts in the classroom. Hill is helping to promote the award and he’ll also serve on the selection committee.

Hill never tires of giving back, particularly to IPS and the Central Indiana community.

“When Mr. Hubbard asked me to be a part of this, I didn’t know what I was going to be a part of. I told Heather [Denton, the Pacers Director of Player Relations] I didn’t [want to] do it because I thought I was in trouble,” Hill said, garnering laughter from the assembled crowd. “I thought IPS said I did something wrong when I was a student. I was like, ‘No, I’ve been out 10 years. I did not do that.’ And if she was asking for my Broad Ripple jersey back, ‘I told her I don’t have it, I don’t know where it is.’

“I told Al [Hubbard], ‘If I’m going to be part of this one thing, the only thing I ask to do is to really be a part of it. Don’t just use my name. Let me actually be a part of this.’”

Photo Gallery: Hill Announces New IPS Teacher Award

Hill isn’t just going through the motions with this. He even had to delay his morning treatment with team trainers to attend this announcement, but he did because it was important to him. If he commits to something, he’ll complete it and be hands on.

One reason Hill wanted to be part of this new award was because he had two teachers that made a lasting impact on him and that he’s thankful they came into his life.

“I was one of those kids who really didn’t think I had a way out but it was teachers like you that really instilled the man in me and made me really fight to be the best I could be,” he said. “I remember growing up at IPS, at Broad Ripple, there was two teachers that really kind of put the foot in my behind when I was a kid there, and that was Ms. Barakat. She was my English teacher. I don’t know where she is today. I wish I could find her and thank her for all her hard work, and also a teacher named Ms. Chandler that passed away with cancer.

“We always talk about students getting the awards, but you guys are really creating something special with recognizing teachers for all the hard work they do because they’re the big reason who we are today.”

Once Hill was finished speaking, the surprises began.

As a student at Broad Ripple High School, Hill received 11 letters for achievement in basketball, baseball and even soccer. But he couldn’t afford a letter jacket. 10 years later, he finally wore one for the first time as they presented him with his very own.

“Ah man,” Hill said, elated by the gestured, “I got a jacket.

“I saw people walk around with this [at school] and I was always thinking like, ‘Man, I got more letters than you and why don’t I have a jacket?’ I’m going to wear this to practice today.”

That wasn’t it. There was one more surprise in store for the Pacers’ point guard.

He didn’t know it, but Ms. Barakat (now Mrs. Avery) was in a room around the corner listening. They brought her out and Hill, whose eyes became watery, lit up with excitement. He was clearly touched.

“I actually haven’t seen Ms. Barkat since my senior year in high school,” he explained afterwards. “After she spent the whole summer working with me on my writing. … I was with her every day in the summer at Einstein Bagels across the street, her buying me cinnamon sugar strawberry cream cheese bagels and some orange juice every morning, but we got the job done.

“In high school I was that athlete that was pretty good. Not to toot any horns, but I was one of the top basketball players coming from this state but she didn’t care about none of that. It was education first. It don’t matter how good you are, she’s not going to let me just be that athlete. She wanted me to be a special person. That’s what really stood out the most.”

Mrs. Avery taught English to Hill, in one of her 38 years of teaching.

“The very rewarding, positive thing was when I saw his eyes and I saw his face, and he’s still George,” Avery said. She then took a moment to compose herself. “The other stuff comes and goes. But who you are as a person, that’s still there. And that to me is the most rewarding thing – that he’s been able to fulfill his dreams. It’s very important to me that he’s giving back to our community. I value and treasure that he does that [and] that he hasn’t forgotten the people who are in his background.”

Avery remembers Hill having a clear vision to play professional basketball. But like most students, he still had areas in school that he needed to shore up and he needed to keep his focus on the important things. Avery helped with that, too.

“He was still trying to discover who he was but he was always a good kid, never rude or disrespectful,” she said. “He was a pleasure to have as a student.”

The two spent a few minutes catching up and they exchanged phone numbers before Hill finally had to leave for practice.

It all comes full circle in life. Avery assisted Hill, who continues to make an impact throughout Indianapolis and beyond. To top it off, the small gesture from the Hubbard family, United Way and IPS Schools went a long way.

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