I recently found myself standing outside the High School gym waiting for the Freshmen Pep Assembly on their first day of high school.
I started reading a plaque dedicated to Coach Wilford P. Hill. I remembered vaguely that the name “Hillmen” came from a beloved coach and immediately guessed that this was our mascot’s namesake. I noticed the date on the plaque as being in the ’60s and asked what seemed like a simple question: Who were we before we became “Hillmen”?
Enlisting the help of Google, I was able to pull up a past school district website page from an unknown author that included a brief history.
Our athletic program began in the fall of 1906 where we played our first football game against longtime rival Lancaster. To put it nicely, Lancaster handily won that first match-up, 55–0. Later in the year, we played Lancaster in baseball, saving our early reputation by winning 15–0. This was followed by a track and field meet in May where we came in second to Darlington. We were known simply at Platteville High School.
Believe it or not, by 1911, we had a girls’ basketball team. After several years of just being Platteville High School, there was a 1934 reference to the Cardinals of Platteville, referring to one of our colors being Cardinal Red as opposed to any winged creature.
Coach Hill came to Platteville in 1920 as a science teacher and then assumed duties as head boys’ basketball coach and head boys’ track coach. In 1927, he became the head football coach. He coached more than 100 seasons and teams of Platteville High School athletes.
An obscure reference in a 1939 yearbook to Coach Hill’s Grid Men stuck, and the following season, they referred to themselves as Hill’s Grid Men and eventually Hill’s Men. In 1945, the student body, school administration, and school board adopted the name “Hillmen” as the official nickname of Platteville High School. The actual drawing of our mascot appeared somewhere around 1950, drawn by student Donna Myers.
Having satisfied my mascot curiosity, you might be wondering why I am including the answer to my question in this article. In the early days of my education career, I was a high school history teacher and have always had an interest in local community history.
I am also a believer in maintaining traditions as an important part of school culture. Having come from a small Wisconsin community where Homecoming was one of the biggest events of the school year, another question that had been nagging me was why we didn’t have a homecoming parade? Apparently, we used to and it was discontinued around WWII. It started up again around the 1960s and went away again around the end of the 1970s.
What started as a question, led to a discussion, and resulted in the revival of a tradition. Hillmen fans support our athletic activities, clubs, and music groups. They support all of our students in the Platteville School District and represent many distinguished alumni.
I would like to extend an invitation to all of our Hillmen fans to put on your Cardinal Red and White and join us for the Platteville School District Homecoming Parade Friday, Oct. 5 at 1:30 p.m. It will be led off by Henry Hillmen and followed by entries from our various activities, the Platteville Middle School and High School bands and representatives from all of our schools — Neal Wilkins, Westview, Platteville Middle School and Platteville High School.
The parade route will start at City Park off of Main Street and proceed east ending at Water Street. Students from the various schools will be escorted to Main Street to watch the parade and then escorted back on time to catch the buses.
I look forward to seeing you there and “GO HILLMEN!”
The Community Corner is a weekly column of opinion written by guest columnists UW–Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields; Platteville School District Superintendent Connie Valenza; Chamber Director Kathy Kopp; Main Street Program Director Jack Luedtke; Common Council President Mike Dalecki, Platteville Recreation Coordinator Jordan Burress, State Rep. Travis Tranel, Platteville City Manager Larry Bierke and Police Chief Doug McKinley.