Pershing High senior Nijzah Hill has been the Detroit Public School League’s premier girls’ cross country runner the last two seasons, and freshman Brittany Hill is following in her big sister’s footsteps – literally.
After placing first and second in league competition for the second week in a row, the Doughgirls’ Hill sisters have been named the PSL Proud Strong Learners of the Week.
“It’s a blessing,” said Shawn Hill, Pershing’s girls cross country coach and proud father of Nijzah and Brittany. “It’s really all coming from Nijzah. She stepped up as a big sister by telling Brittany not to settle for being in the back. She’s telling her ‘you need to be here with me.’ I give her the credit. She’s trying to pass the torch by teaching her younger sister how to win.”
In successive weeks, the sisters have crossed the finish line in first and second place among a field of more than 100 girls.
“I try to keep a good pace because I know we’ll eventually catch up with everybody (and pass them),’’ said Nijzah, who won the league championship the last two seasons and is favored to win again. She isn’t surprised that her sister has been such a quick study in becoming a top competitor. “She’s supposed to do that,’’ Nijzah said.
Brittany’s strategy in conquering the 5,000-meter course at Belle Isle has been simple. “I try to stay with (Nijzah) and get it over with as fast as I can,’’ she said. “The toughest part is when they keep telling you ‘three laps to go, two laps to go….’ because that just makes you think of how far you have to go to finish.”
Brittany admits she has surprised herself by being second to only her sister in her first year of cross country. Likewise, she’s amazed her dad.
“I didn’t know she had that much fight in her,’’ Shawn Hill said. “I didn’t see it because Brittany was struggling at first. But Nijzah had a talk with her and she started pushing herself. I told my wife that before the year’s out that Brittany is going to beat Nijzah. But now I don’t think that’s going to happen. Nijzah is not going to let her.”
On that last point, the big sister agrees. “I’m not going to let her beat me,’’ Nijzah said. “She’s little.”
Ironically, cross country is a second sport for the Hill sisters. Both use the endurance gained from cross country, including running at least three miles daily, to get ready for their main sport, basketball.
“If Nijzah really worked at it, she could compete for a state championship in cross country,’’ said Shawn Hill, who is also the Doughgirls’ basketball coach and has traditionally fielded one of the top teams in the state. “I could be the blame for her not being the runner she could be because I’m a basketball coach and I put a lot of emphasis on basketball. But I’m convinced that if Nijzah really wanted it, she could probably be a better runner than a basketball player.”
Nijzah suggests it’s genetics that makes both sisters such good runners. “My mom ran cross country and so did my dad,’’ she said.
Shawn Hill thinks it comes more from within. “Even before Nijzah knew what competing was, she didn’t want to come in second in anything,’’ he said. “She’s always been a kid who wants her own. I think Brittany has that same attitude. They both hate losing, and I think it’s helping Brittany to know that Nijzah is going to be in her corner all the way.”
The Detroit Public School League Proud Strong Learner of the Week award is representative of the league’s top boys and girls athletes. The award is presented by the DPS Office of Athletics and sponsored for the third year in a row by Detroit-area McDonald’s owner-operators.
Sports Information Director
Detroit Public Schools