Virgil Hill talks New Town shooting in visit to gymEAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. — With November’s tragic shootings still lingering in the hearts of New Town, students, administrators and families, former world boxing champion Virgil Hill made a sweep of small-town schools in the state recently to inspire hope and give support to those still grieving.
By: Christian Furlong, Forum News Service
EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. — With November’s tragic shootings still lingering in the hearts of New Town, students, administrators and families, former world boxing champion Virgil Hill made a sweep of small-town schools in the state recently to inspire hope and give support to those still grieving.
His stop at the East Grand Forks American Legion on Saturday afternoon was another part of Hill’s journey to bring social issues in North Dakota towns to light.
“So tragic,” he said, referring to the shooting that took the lives of three children and their grandmother in New Town. “I see Newtown, Conn., and they are getting teddy bears and bringing psychiatrists in, but here, nothing. (North Dakota) always has to take the hind seat.”
That lack of coverage sparked some discomfort in Hill and he reacted by spending the past week and a half visiting schools in St. John, Belcourt, Rolla and Dunseith as well as the Fort Berthold reservation. “(Those schools) have problems with bullying, drugs and staying in school,” he said. “I tell them a little bit about myself — that I was poor as well — and about making goals and reaching goals.”
Hill’s presence in North Dakota came shortly after his recent selection into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, which was never something Hill expected.
“They put (fighters) up there and I fought,” he said. “It never came to my thoughts that I would ever get into the hall of fame. It was a big thing for my father who passed a year ago, so that was special.”
It was Hill’s hall of fame selection and his rumored plans for a comeback fight — the final one of his career — that drew a good crowd to the Legion for Saturday’s regularly scheduled amateur fights. With the possible fight approaching, Hill has spent the past year training in California. The fight likely will take place in North Dakota.
When asked about Grand Forks as a possible location, Hill shrugged. “We are really trying to figure out a venue, where the best place would be,” he said. “It could be anywhere in North Dakota.”
The state played a major role in Hill’s career, which saw him rise to light heavyweight champion of the world.
“It’s where I began,” Hill said. “My beginnings were here. I have always supported North Dakota. My last fight was in Germany and now I want to end it where I started. I’ve come full circle.”
Hill’s attendance Saturday was in support of a local boxing club, the Forks Fighters, coached by longtime friend Eddie Obregon.
“We always had a good boxing club,” Hill said of his childhood in Grand Forks. “But now, it’s falling off. I know that it’s a hockey town, but hockey is the big brother. So the big brother has to take care of the little guy, too.”
The champion’s visit to North Dakota found him not only in local schools, but also at the state capitol where he received a personalized North Dakota license plate from Gov. Jack Dalrymple.
But Hill wasn’t in the area to relish in the spotlight. He had a message.
“Don’t forget there are other kids out there,” he said. “It’s very rough out there and there are temptations for everything. The kids — we have to take care of our future. That’s so important; cherish it, nurture it and take care of it.”