Back in action

Alex Hill wasn’t sure what would be going through his mind Tuesday night when the Souhegan High School boys basketball team celebrates senior night.

A year ago, he didn’t even know if he’d have the chance to be there.

Growing up, Hill was a mutli-sport athlete, excelling at football and basketball, and spent some of his winters snowboarding. He started playing basketball at home, and eventually worked his way from rec leagues to travel teams to AAU.

By the time he was a freshman at Souhegan, Hill was playing on the junior varsity and on the bench for varsity games.

But during that freshman year, things started to get bad for Hill.

“Freshman year, I had my first concussion,” he said. “I took time off to rest, and then over the next two years, I had six more (concussions). I got some from football, some from snowboarding, just stupid stuff. So frustrating. It’s difficult to go through.

“Because of this, I really had nothing to do. I got a job and that didn’t work out well. My grades started dropping because it’s hard to focus. Things weren’t going well. I met with so many different doctors, all over the place, and they put me through physical therapy, acupuncture, treadmill work, all of that.”

After spending a couple of years coaching at ConVal, Peter Pierce, who had been an assistant coach at Souhegan, returned to take over the program before last season. Pierce had never seen Hill play, but before tryouts, he heard stories of what the then-junior had been able to do.

Right away, despite Hill’s struggles on the court, Pierce could see something.

“I saw glimpses of the competitiveness and I saw glimpses of what it meant to (Hill) be in that environment,” the coach said. “He wasn’t ready and he wasn’t close and we kind of knew that. When I met with his parents early on, I said let’s just reintroduce him to the game. I just wanted to get him back into the environment and if it works out …”

But to Pierce, there was more to it than just getting Hill back on the court to help the Sabers.

“I know what the game meant to me when I was a young man,” Pierce said. “I would have been lost without the game of basketball. There’s been many times in my life where the game has kind of pulled me back. I knew it was hurting him. You recognize that (in others).”

Keeping Hill involved during his junior year was a challenge for both. Some times Pierce had to track Hill down and bring him back into the mix. Eventually, Hill realized what he needed to do if he was ever going to play again.

“I’ve been doing this since I was a little kid and I went years without it,” Hill said. “I’ve been through so much. I’ve been in some trouble before and I wanted to make a new name for myself. I still had time to turn things around. I told myself let’s give it one more shot and let’s see where I can go.”

During the summer, Hill focused on getting back onto the court, but there were still other issues to iron out.

“There were hurdles,” Pierce said. “What happens if he takes a hit to the head? Should he be out there at all? If he’s cleared medically, is he cleared legally? We’re just fortunate that we were able to work through it.

“I had people tell me I was crazy to consider it. The game has been incredibly important in my life. I could see the kid was hurting when he tried out last year.”

It took Hill a while to get back into game shape when he got back on the court, but once there, it felt to him like he never left. While at times he’s had flashes of the player he was, Pierce can still see the affects that a few years away from basketball has taken on Hill.

“Two years in the life of a high school student athlete is an eternity,” Pierce said. “He’s capable of playing at another level. Not that he gets there a lot because his game is so full of holes and that happens when you don’t play.

“We talked at length, Alex and I did, about his level of maturity and what he’s seen in life already. There’s a lot of kids that have to have so much bad happen to them before they open their eyes, and he’s got more behind him than most kids will have before they get out of college. That’s a blessing and every minute he’s out there, he should be thankful for it. I think he’s understood that remarkably well.”

While the Sabers haven’t had the season they were hoping for – Souhegan was 5-11 heading into the final week of the season – it’s been exactly what Hill needed.

“I know we’re a good team and we can play with all these teams, so I’m trying to enjoy the moment,” he said. “It’s easy to say that, but so much harder to do it. You can get really frustrated. I just try to have fun, and when you are having fun, it makes it better.”