By Trey Williams
Billy Hill-Williams wasn’t a great high school basketball player at Science Hill.
But Hill-Williams, one of three African-Americans on Science Hill’s first integrated basketball team during the 1965-66 season, was a productive player who went on to become a great influence on many lives. Jerry Hartsaw and James Bridwell were the other former Langston High School players on the Hilltoppers varsity team.
The 6-foot-6 Hill-Williams, who died July 3, would’ve been Langston’s leading returning scorer as a senior. But Johnson City schools integrated after the 1964-65 school year, and Hill-Williams spent his senior season in a more structured system geared toward one player – shooting guard Ken Jones.
However, Hill-Williams played significant minutes and made some key buckets in victories while helping to build a bridge between the black and white communities.
“Billy was really a nice person and a good basketball player,” said Charlie Bailey, a junior guard on the 1965-66 Science Hill team. “I mean, he was a very good person.”
Hill-Williams continued building bonds until his final days in Wichita, Kansas.
He joined the Air Force after graduating at Science Hill, and when he finished in the Air Force, he went to Emporia State in Kansas to resume his basketball career.
It was there he met his future wife, Lavonta. Billy worked for the Post Office and she was a teacher. Lavonta was on the Wichita city council for 10 years and was vice mayor at one time.
They celebrated their 50th anniversary on Aug. 28, 2021.
Their sons Darrin and B.J., each of whom are 6-foot-8, played big-time college basketball in basketball-crazed Kansas. Billy’s daughter Sharonell Horner stands 6 feet tall and works as a traveling nurse. She currently lives in Coffeyville, Kansas.
B.J. tallied 497 points, 464 points and 112 blocked shots while playing for Roy Williams at Kansas (1993-97). Playing with teammates such as Paul Pierce, Jacque Vaughn and Raef Lafrentz, B.J. had five rebounds, four points and a steal in a 60-57 Elite Eight loss to Syracuse as a junior. He played 10 minutes in the Jayhawks’ 85-82 Sweet 16 loss to eventual national champion Arizona in ’97.
Darrin scored 843 points and grabbed 510 rebounds at Wichita State (1996-2000).
Their roots were in the soil of Carver Rec, where Billy played all sorts of sports growing up.
“Billy just knew how to play basketball,” said his brother Bud, who is six years younger and also played at Science Hill. “There weren’t too many things he couldn’t do. Growing up, my dad used to coach Little League Baseball. I was the bat boy back then.
“He had a Coca-Cola team that used to play at Carver all the time. So he always kept us kind of athletically inclined, because we were always playing some type of ball. (Langston’s) Coach (Paul) Chrisman and Mr. (Charles) Moncrief, at that time, ran Carver.”
The variety of sports at Carver helped build camaraderie and competitive spirit.
“We were always involved in something,” Hill said. “If it wasn’t basketball, it was baseball. If it wasn’t baseball, it was tennis. If it wasn’t tennis, you was playing volleyball. You was playing something – horseshoes, whatever.
“We was always involved in sports, big-time. And Billy just happened to shoot up height wise, you know, real quick, and that was it.”
Hill was second team All-Tri-State as a junior at Langston. Senior Eugene Russaw, a first-team pick, was the only other Golden Tiger selected among the 10 players.
Hill eagerly entered the Langston gym when his older brother was playing run-and-gun basketball for Chrisman.
“I was there every time I got an opportunity,” Hill said. “You know, at that time there wasn’t too many people in our community that missed too many Langston games.”
Billy paid his active childhood forward as an adult. He coached a women’s softball team in Wichita and later coached his sons’ youth league teams for years. He bowled with the traveling Black Bowlers of Wichita.
He greatly enjoyed working with youth and worked with the NAACP. He helped with fundraisers and neighborhood cleanups.
He sold programs for Wichita State, a habit that might’ve started when he’d work the counter at the Carver swimming pool while the likes of Johnny Russaw, Kenny Hamilton and Eugene “Red” Gillespie were lifeguards.
“Billy joined the Air Force at the same time Eugene joined the Marines,” Hill said.
Always smiling, always involved and happily civic-minded, Hill-Williams was even known to make scheduling suggestions for Roy Williams.
“Because of him, I met Paul Pierce, Jacque Vaughn and Greg Ostertag,” Hill said. “It seemed like everybody knew him.”
Indeed, Kansas governor Laura Kelly recognized Williams via a proclamation that designated July 12, 2022 as Billy Williams Day. A representative from Ghana, South Africa spoke at his service. Williams and his wife made trips to Africa.
None of it would’ve shocked Bailey, his former Science Hill teammate.
“I knew Billy before integration,” Bailey said. “We lived there on Grand Avenue right across from where the golf course (Pine Oaks) is now. One block down was one of the black sections of Johnson City (Roan Hill).
“I grew up knowing that some those guys were good players and some of ‘em weren’t worth a flip. Some of them would knock your head off and others would run. So I learned at a young age that everybody’s the same. But he was – I remember Billy as a really kind soul and a pretty good basketball player, too.”