Kenny Hill is on the top of the mountain, but has seen the bottom too

Waterford – This is life. Utter, beautiful, real life: Your circumstances don’t define you. They strengthen you. We all have our stuff. Our stories. Our baggage. And yet we get to decide. Yes, this: We get to decide.

We survive. We grow. We use our experience to help others. We never, ever, ever, ever allow our past to influence any future destructive behaviors. We let it inspire us to do better.

And this is Kenny Hill.

Kenny Hill: known to the community of Waterford as the point guard of the basketball team that goes for its second straight state championship this weekend at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Kenny Hill: So much more than that. A young man who has seen it all. Parents battling opioid addictions. In group homes away from his two sisters. Living here. Living there. And yet Hill hasn’t merely endured, but prevailed: an unflaggingly popular kid in his new/old town and a mentor to a young man at Great Neck School, illustrating Hill’s depth, reflectiveness and courage that belie his years.

“Just a wonderful, nice kid. We love him,” Waterford resident Heide Godin was saying the other day, talking about the point guard who mentors her grandson, Hendrix Godin, a fourth-grader at Great Neck School. “Hendrix is a mini version of Kenny.”

The story: Erika Bassett, Godin’s reading teacher and wife of Waterford coach Bill Bassett, knew of her student’s story. She teamed with Colleen Lineburgh, mother of Waterford assistant coach Tim Lineburgh, to unite two souls who have already seen too much.

“Hendrix has been struggling with family life. I know he had a mom who was dealing with addiction and unfortunately passed away to an overdose a couple of years ago,” Hill said. “It’s similar to the situation I’m in. My mom and dad have been battling opioid addiction for a really long time, probably 10-plus years. It’s part of my history. I’m proud to say I’ve gone through those things and overcome them. They asked if I could be a big brother figure in his life.”

Now they are best buds. No small feat, that. High school kids are gods to fourth graders. Hendrix is already an unofficial Lancer.

“When I was young, I was outgoing. I wasn’t afraid to be myself. I see that in Hendrix,” Hill said. “Very charismatic. After our games, he always comes to the bench to say ‘good game.’ When we beat Fairfield Warde, he came into the handshake line with us. It was hilarious. We sat him down at the end of the bench and said ‘shhh don’t tell Bassett you’re here.’”

Hill and his two sisters live with second cousins Dave and Kelley McCarthy in Waterford. They refer to Dave and Kelley as their aunt and uncle. Their arrival here personifies Grateful Dead’s musing of what a long, strange trip it’s been.

Hill, who attended Clark Lane, moved back to Providence with his parents after eighth grade. Here is Kenny telling his story:

“My parents were doing well. Two years clean. We were in an apartment and things were going really smoothly,” Hill said. “Then things took a turn when my mom lost her job. She succumbed to addiction again. I could see it. Same patterns. Her demeanor. Eventually, things hit rock bottom and my sisters and I were pulled out of our home and spent a week in separate group homes.

“I was going to see my parents daily to see how they were doing. My aunt and uncle took us in down in Newport for a summer. I was taking frequent trips to Providence because of AAU. Eventually I moved in with my coach from Classical (High in Providence). But my sisters wanted to move back here. This is where they wanted to be. I was supposed to go back with my parents before junior year but they relapsed again. I was forced to make a choice. I’m happy I’m here now.”

If you didn’t know Hill’s story, you’d never know it. He is cheerful by habit, not reaction. Kenny Hill lives steadfastly by the ideal that what is past is prologue. We all have our stuff. But we all have the power to decide.

“As ironic as it sounds, my strength comes from my parents,” Hill said. “I’ve seen them go through the worst. I’ve been through the worst with them. I just know what I don’t want to be. I’m not 100 percent sure what I want to be in life. But I know the mistakes I don’t want to make for my family and my kids in the future.”

Hill admitted after Waterford’s wild win over Manchester the other night in the semifinals that he’s never been part of any story like this. A rainbow ride since moving back to the 06385.

“I love it,” Kenny Hill said. “I’ll be in a pizza place around town and people just start talking to me because they know me from basketball. It’s just so cool. It’s nice to be part of a community. It’s not that way in Providence.”

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro 


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