PSU YORK

Penn State York community honors Maddie Hill in annual ceremony

Hill, a former Penn State York student and Dover High School graduate, died in 2016 after battling cancer three times.

Thomas Kendziora
York Dispatch
Maddie Hill Night at the Joe and Rosie Ruhl Student Community Center at Penn State York in Spring Garden Township, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

They gathered on the court at Penn State York on Tuesday night between men's and women's basketball games. They gathered to honor one of their own, celebrate the power of positivity and support the fight against cancer.

Penn State York held its annual Maddie Hill Night on Tuesday, with blue "Fight Like Hill" shirts dotting the Joe and Rosie Ruhl Student Community Center. Hill was a student at the school before she died on June 29, 2016, after battling cancer for the third time. The 2015 Dover High School graduate was first celebrated at a basketball game that winter; this was the sixth such ceremony since her passing.

Hill, who was first diagnosed with cancer at 8 years old, remained a beacon of positivity throughout her life. She was a standout soccer player at Dover in addition to an active supporter of THON, Penn State's student-run philanthropy for those impacted by childhood cancer. Hill became a Penn State York Benefiting THON member in college, where she majored in human development and family studies.

The "Fight Like Hill" mantra began at Dover, continued at Penn State York and has carried on since Hill's passing. A plaque honoring Hill and including the phrase remains displayed in the student affairs office at the Ruhl Center.

"If you're having difficulties in your life or having troubles with anything, we hope that you try to push yourself and stay positive like Maddie, and Fight Like Hill," said Dawn Hill, Maddie's mother, in a speech during the ceremony.

From left, Dawn Hill, mother of the late Maddie Hill, speaks while her husband Scott Hill and son Travis Hill look on as students, faculty and community members honor the memory of Maddie Hill during Maddie Hill Night at the Joe and Rosie Ruhl Student Community Center at Penn State York in Spring Garden Township, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. Hill lost her battle with cancer in 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

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Penn State York first honored hill at a basketball game on Dec. 2, 2016. Jeff Barkdoll, who was the interim athletic director at the time and is now the full-time AD, and then-women's basketball coach Terri Van Slyke, helped develop the plan in conjunction with the York THON group. Hill has been honored every season since except for 2020-21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nittany Lion players and coaches on both the men's and women's teams took the court for the ceremony alongside Hill's family and members of York THON and the Student Government Association. The tradition has become an annual highlight of the winter season, and both teams have bought in since the start.

"They totally embrace it and totally understand why we do it," Barkdoll told The York Dispatch, "but more than that, some have even actually made donations to THON because of the event. ... I think they embrace the opportunity to to be able to provide the venue that actually benefits something worthwhile."

Athletic Director Jeff Barkdoll speaks as students, faculty and community members honor the memory of Maddie Hill during Maddie Hill Night at the Joe and Rosie Ruhl Student Community Center at Penn State York in Spring Garden Township, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. Hill lost her battle with cancer in 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Penn State York split Tuesday's basketball games against Penn State Hazleton. The women's team suffered a narrow 75-67 loss in the first leg of the doubleheader, while the men won 92-52 in the nightcap to improve to 18-3 this season (10-1 in the Penn State University Athletic Conference).

The ceremony began quickly after the women's contest and donations rolled in throughout the evening. THON Weekend, featuring a 46-hour no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon in State College, is set for Feb. 17-19.

Those who knew Hill and haven't forgotten her inspiring positivity in the face of hardship, nor have they forgotten her love of THON. Tuesday provided an opportunity for them to reflect on positive memories, find inspiration and make a difference.

"Her character was second to none. She was just an amazing person," Barkdoll said. "She was so positive, even though you knew she might have been hurting and maybe not even feeling too well. She was one that would just display a positive attitude where she was going to overcome. And she was going to just make you feel better by being in her presence."

Seven years after her death, Hill's presence is as strong as ever in York.