The newly varnished hardwood floor resounds with the pounding of 20 feet and the intermittent squeaking of sneakers as someone does a quick pivot or makes a sudden stop. There is the normal assortment of shouts (“Over here!” “That’s the way!”) as the players put all their effort into the last crucial minutes of the closely scoring game. Suddenly the orange orb makes a satisfying swish as it falls, seemingly effortlessly, through the net at one end of the court, and as the buzzer jangles, a happy shout echoes through the gymnasium. The winning team crowds around the maker of the last-minute basket, hugging and congratulating each other.
Sound familiar? It would, if the shouts of joy weren’t decidedly high-pitched and feminine and if the hero was not a blonde, blue-eyed, and also decidedly feminine girl named Mechelle Hill.
Mechelle may be used to the fanfare of victory, but she doesn’t show any selfish pride as she rejoices with her teammates now. Her face is flushed with exertion, and she brushes her long hair off her shoulders to cool them, but her expression is not weary.
She is still not weary later as she sits in the shade outside the physical education building at the University of Utah, where she is participating in a girl’s basketball camp. This morning they had divided into teams for a tournament; this morning Mechelle had also been chosen to be on the camp’s all-star team, which included many other top high school athletes. It is the final day of the week-long activity, but Mechelle is going strong and is just a bit anxious to get back to the courts. “I like to be up and around, doing things,” she smiles.
The bright blue eyes sparkle a little as she says that, for few things could be truer. The Gunnison Valley (Utah) High School senior had just completed a first-in-state season on the basketball team, had captained a second-in-state softball team, and had been a star participant on the volleyball and track teams. If that weren’t enough, she had graced the boys’ games as well as she high-stepped to the band music at halftime as captain of the drill team. She doesn’t recite all her accomplishments at once but remembers them sporadically with an “Oh, yeah—” and a bit of surprise that anyone would be interested. “I just like to be active,” she grins in surprise at the lengthy list. And there is still more she will not remember until later, when her proud mother reminds her.
It is apparent, talking to Mechelle for the first time, that she has learned about more than slow-pitching and free throws in the course of her competition. She speaks of the excitement of winning, the sense of exhilaration when energies are spent and you’ve done your very best. But more than that, she emphasizes the personal growth that can be had from working together with a group of people for a common goal, of giving of yourself freely. Gospel principles come through as the conversation progresses and it becomes clear that multi-talented Mechelle has developed a philosophy to help her make the best of this expanding, exciting world of women’s sports. “A woman, especially, has to keep her perspective and remember who she is,” says Mechelle seriously. “You can still play basketball and be feminine.” She is living proof of that.
If Mechelle is a unique person, perhaps it is because of her unique position in her family. She is the third oldest of six children—and the only girl. Her father, Bruce, played basketball for BYU, and older brothers Jeff, 20 (now on a mission), and Greg, 18, set a precedent of athletic prowess. The year that Mechelle was a junior, Greg was a senior—and was voted the most outstanding basketball player on the boys’ team. He was also high scorer in the state tournament, in which his team placed fourth. Mechelle was high scorer in her own tournament, and the brother-sister team scored over 200 points in that small stretch of time. Younger brothers Ronnie, 15, Richard, 13, and Bryant, 11, show every indication of following suit.
Following in Mechelle’s footsteps would require a very busy agenda. As well as school sports, she likes to play tennis (“Especially on dates!”), water ski, and swim. Fall brings pheasant hunting (she outscored her brothers on a gun safety test) and dirt-bike riding in the canyons surrounding Gunnison. School itself is fun for Mechelle, who not surprisingly likes PE classes best, but she also enjoys home economics. In fact, she was elected president of the Future Homemakers of America chapter at Gunnison Valley High. Cooking and drawing “are a couple of the few things I will sit down for,” she laughs.
Competition does not take up all of Mechelle’s time and energy. “Winning is important,” she says, “only because it makes you want to do your best. Winning isn’t everything. If you play your hardest and still lose, then that is the way it was meant to be. You’ve got to learn from your experience.”
Learning, not only about the game but about people, is perhaps the best thing about playing on a team, believes Mechelle. “It helps you to get to know other people and to work with them, even though you might be shy. I was a delegate to Girls’ State last year, and I didn’t know a soul. I found my experience in team sports helped me to get involved.”
Team sports for girls are often criticized because of the feelings of rivalry between teams and the harsh attitudes that sometimes develop. Mechelle recognizes this and has learned to cope with it: “Some girls do get ‘tough’—there is a lot of strain and tension. But our basketball team, which is all LDS, tries to keep its cool. Once there was an awful lot of tension in a game, and we all felt it. Afterwards, I said, ‘Hey, you guys, let’s go talk to them.’ Now we’re really good friends with that team.”
The breeze lifts her hair away from her face, which is cooling as she catches her breath. She describes the special relationship her basketball team had, and though she is still animated, there is a serenity about her soft-featured face.
“We would say a prayer before every one of our games, and I would kneel beside my bed before I went, too. I could really feel the Spirit. At our last championship game, we said our prayer, and the Spirit was so strong that we all started crying. Things like that bring us closer together, and we are just like one person playing out on the floor.”
The girl who minutes before was bounding down the basketball court is now a little pensive as she leans her chin in her hands. “I see people in wheelchairs and I feel so blessed. I think if God gives you a talent you should use it; I’m so grateful for what I have, and I hope I can serve people in some way.”
Suddenly her features are lighted up again as she sits straight. “One way I am able to serve is in teaching Junior Sunday School. I’ve got the four-year-olds, and they’re so special! I really love little kids. I’d like to have at least four of my own, and have them grow up together the way my brothers and I did.” Suddenly the interview time is over, and as quickly as she appeared she is bouncing down the stairs back to the basketball court.
The Hill living room in Gunnison is cool and calm after the helter-skelter of the basketball camp, but Mechelle is still as vivacious. In one corner is a lace-covered table on which are propped pictures, trophies, portraits, and certificates collected by the family in the past few years; examination reveals many team photos of both sexes and of several sports. And there are snapshots of the Hill family, who seem to function as a team—without the competitors.
Out in the heat of a southern Utah midday, a box elder in the backyard flutters its leaves and casts a flickering shadow across a large cement square that has been a project of this special ‘team.’ Sister Hill promises that it will soon be a mini basketball court.
“We like to do and accomplish things together,” says Mechelle as she kneels on the grass to play with the family’s three dogs. “We have a camper up in the canyon that we use as a home base for dirt-bike riding, and we like to go skiing and golfing as a family.”
“It’s a lot of fun,” agrees Sister Hill. “Even when it’s hectic, we try to support them in all of their activities. One day we drove over 400 miles to attend both Greg and Mechelle’s tournament games! We feel we have really good relationships.”
Perhaps it was in this family setting that Mechelle first learned what teamwork means. Wherever that lesson was learned, home was the place where she began “never sitting still” as she played with her five brothers. “We always played running games, like cops and robbers, and later we’d shoot baskets and play catch,” she remembers.
As time went on, it became apparent that not only the male members of the Hill clan were endowed with athletic ability. When she entered high school and expressed an interest in basketball, her mother was wary. “It took me about a year to get used to the idea,” admits Sister Hill. “I guess I wanted her to be a dancer or something. But now (she looks at her daughter with pride), we can really see her talent and are thrilled about her success. And her brothers have gained a new respect for her.”
“They’re so funny,” giggles Mechelle. “At one of my games I had a foul called on me, and Greg jumped up and yelled at the ref, ‘That’s my sister, and she doesn’t make fouls!’”
If the brothers had any reservations about having a basketball star for a sister, they don’t now. Perhaps it is because she is still the generous, helpful sister she always has been, and sports have not made her lose that spark of lively femininity she has always had. And it has helped, not hindered, her eternal outlook. “A lot of girls would like to be professionals, and quite often I think it detracts from their desires for a family. Up until a couple of years ago, I kind of wanted to be a pro too, but I’d never do it at the expense of my family.”
It has altered one thing, though, and that is that Mechelle would like to marry an athletic man. “I’d like him to be involved in sports,” she smiles, “but not necessarily professional.” She enjoys dates with boys who play tennis and other coed sports and says that both have fun “no matter who wins!”
But marriage seems a little far away now as she enjoys another year of high school. After graduation she plans to attend college and major in—what else?—physical education.
Mechelle is excited about what the next few years will hold, both on the courts and off. She is a winner in more ways than one.