Calvin Hill '65 has had a storied athletic career. Graduating from Yale in 1969, he was the first Ivy League football player to be picked in the first round of an NFL Draft. A Rookie of the Year, he went on to win a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys and play on four Pro Bowl teams.
But the prequel to his story began at Riverdale, where he arrived in 1961 as a shy and nervous boarding-school student. His home in Baltimore was a world apart from Riverdale, and he felt as though he had arrived in a foreign country. At Riverdale, "Brown" referred to something other than the color and "market" did not mean the A&P.
In an all-campus assembly today, Hill addressed the Middle and High Schools as part of the Class of 1957 Alumni Speaker Series. In his introduction, Head of School Dominic A.A. Randolph said Hill represents the character strengths promoted by the school, describing him as "courageous, humble, thoughtful, serene and embracing of the people around him."
Hill came from a family who valued knowledge although their own educations had been modest. His father, a construction worker, had learned how to read and write in his late teens and he wanted nothing more than for Calvin to have a first-rate education.
His father heard from a local doctor about a scholarship offered by Riverdale and he decided that Calvin should apply. But the school guidance counselor discouraged them, saying that Riverdale was a "very sophisticated" school. "You are a blue collar worker," Hill recalled the counselor saying to his dad, "Economically this is going to be difficult for you." His father replied: "Your job is to encourage these kids. We are not here to get your permission."
So Hill set his mind on getting into Riverdale. "I wanted to show Mr. Chambers that I could do it," he said.
And he did, although it was hard going in the early days. His father's advice steadied him and gave him confidence: "You are as good as anybody there ... and you are no better than anybody there."
At Riverdale, two mentors had a profound influence on his life. Head of School John Haydn Jones took a personal interest in him and invited him to his home for pool and quiet moral support. He said Jones taught him that "every smile is started by another smile." And his football coach Frank Bertino taught him to put "the other fellow first."
Bertino, who taught history as well as coaching football, had a career record of 247 wines, 47 losses, and 6 ties. He had 17 undefeated teams. Hill said Bertino was one of the best coaches he ever had. He ran tough practices, "the toughest I've ever had," with an emphasis on logic and values. "Fundamentally we were always very sound. We understood why we were doing certain things," he said. Bertino taught them that you have to "trust the guy you are playing next to," and that you have to recognize that you are "part of something that is much bigger than yourself."
In returning to Riverdale, Hill told the students that he felt as though he were repaying a debt to everyone at the school who had taught him and believed him. He told the students that their Riverdale community is something to be valued. "You guys are part of something that is so much bigger than yourselves." And he said that in life, rewards come from learning how to be on teams.
"The most important thing you do," he told them, "is going to involve others."