Now in his eighth year as a leader within Colorado Academy’s Department of Athletics, Jon Hill knows well that his new role as Director of Athletics is about much more than wins and losses. As Assistant Director for the past seven years, he’s already played a pivotal part in building out CA’s Pre-K–12 physical education and athletic offerings, recruiting experienced coaches and staff members, coordinating classes and teams to meet the high demand in the school’s state-of-the-art Athletic Center facilities, and managing the hundreds of Upper School sports competitions that take place both across CA’s campus and throughout Colorado during the regular season and frequently into the playoffs.
But as Director, Hill will serve as the ultimate head coach, mentoring program heads and individual team coaches as well as the student-athletes themselves. He’ll be the chief nurturer, the constant advocate and supporter who ensures kids and coaches feel cared for, successful, and safe every time they walk onto the field or into his office. He will be the communicator, the one who listens, advises, and sometimes consoles when anyone—a player, coach, teacher, or family member—brings something to his attention that needs fixing, or is worth celebrating. And he’ll play the role of bridge-builder, inviting participants into the program from all across the school community, making sure athletic spaces like locker rooms and team buses are inclusive for all and representing the school to the wider world.
An experienced competitor, basketball coach, teacher, and administrator, not to mention the parent of a CA student-athlete who graduated in the Class of 2022, Hill embraces these many roles a director of athletics must play by zeroing in on the one truth that ties them all together: Athletics is about enabling people to be their best.
“CA has an incredible history of success in athletics,” Hill observes, “just like we do in academics and the arts.” Varsity teams such as Girls Golf, Field Hockey, Girls Lacrosse, and Boys and Girls Soccer hold dozens of State Championships, while each year individual CA student-athletes are recruited by prestigious sports programs at NCAA Division I schools and beyond.
“We got to that place by taking care of the process and the kids,” continues Hill, “making sure that our coaches and teachers truly enjoy being here and being able to offer experiences for our students like nowhere else. When we have adults who love coming to campus every day, and when we have students who feel like they can walk into my office and get support from someone who knows them, that reflects on all of us. The success is a byproduct of that culture.”
Hill sees a clear connection between athletics at CA and the school’s stated mission to create well-rounded learners and leaders who take kindness, courage, and curiosity with them when they graduate. CA’s “no-cut” athletics participation promise—which means everyone can play, no matter their ability—ensures every student has the opportunity to try something outside their comfort zone, he explains. It goes hand in hand with CA’s requirements in community service and the arts, which encouraged Hill’s son, Jayden, a star on the Varsity Basketball Team, to dive into photography for the first time.
“When students are challenged to step outside of what’s familiar to them, whether it’s basketball or ceramics, the life lessons they learn are irreplaceable.”
A career twist
It was a decision to venture outside of his own comfort zone that brought Hill to where he is today. After high school, he was sure he’d go into the lucrative field of computer networking, but it took only a brief stint in the industry to convince him to instead go after personal training and sports conditioning specialist certifications from the International Sports Science Association. Later, he’d enroll at Metropolitan State University and earn his Human Performance and Sport/Sport Industry Operations degree.
This change of direction led to positions as a fitness trainer and high school basketball coach, and then as a physical education teacher, coach, and the Director of the Elementary Sports Program at Denver Academy, where he worked with students in grades 2-12 for over a decade. It was at that institution, which specializes in working with young people who have unique learning profiles, that Hill began to see the value of an athletics program that could offer opportunities for everyone, regardless of their ability.
“That became the passion,” he says. “Here at CA, we’re lucky to have students and athletes across the spectrum, and I get to work with some truly accomplished young competitors who are ready to go to the next level in their sport. But the idea is the same: providing opportunities for every child to learn, have fun, and get excited about physical education.”
Now, as Interim Director, Hill is eager to deploy some of the lessons he’s learned over his more than two decades in the industry. First among these is the importance of relationships in creating the type of culture that can nurture athletes of all ages.
“Just reaching out and connecting with people,” he says, “and a lot of meetings—these are the biggest part of my job right now. I love hearing feedback from athletes, families, coaches, teachers. Listening is a powerful thing. I think back to my experiences and those of colleagues at other schools, where having an actual relationship with your athletic director wasn’t a guarantee. I don’t want that. I will be at the games; I will come out to the practices; I will travel on the bus. I will do what it takes to support this program.”
Enduring the COVID-19 pandemic taught Hill a few other invaluable skills, like flexibility and patience.
“I’m the kind of person who wakes up every day with a plan of what I’m going to do today—that checklist,” he explains. “And then you get into school, and it doesn’t work out that way for whatever reason, whether it’s a pandemic or simply the fact that at a school like CA, there’s just so much going on. You have to be willing to change in order to grow.”
Ultimately, Hill says, he’s had to step into any number of things he didn’t anticipate, and he’s become a better leader because of it. “Being able to adapt to a new world is something I feel comfortable with, especially with the kids and families I’ve come to know here at CA.”
A larger role
Hill’s commitments don’t end at the campus gates: He’s deeply involved in numerous local and statewide organizations that allow him to enhance CA’s reputation as a leader in Colorado while influencing policies that affect thousands of athletes.
A lifelong tennis player, Hill serves as the Metro League’s Girls Tennis Chair and is on his way to an even bigger league leadership role. With the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA), the conference in which most of CA’s varsity teams compete, Hill has organized an annual regional tennis tournament on Stuie’s Courts for many years. He is also CHSAA’s Field Hockey Committee Chair as well as a member of its Legislative Council and new Classification Task Force. Most recently, Hill was also asked to join the CHSAA Foundation Board.
“It’s busy,” he acknowledges.
But of course, that’s exactly the way Hill works best—by showing up, creating connections, and building networks that make everyone stronger. His ongoing focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the Department of Athletics is yet another prime example of his method.
Developing training plans and other initiatives with CA’s Director of Culture and Community, Collinus Newsome, Hill believes he is in a unique position to advance the school’s deep engagement in DEI work.
“Athletics brings so many different people together—different walks of life, different backgrounds—that our mission has to be the same as the school’s: seeking equity and inclusion in everything that we do,” he insists. “You might be surprised how relevant that is for us in athletics.”
As a longtime coach and observer of CA teams, Hill can cite experiences where travel to a game may have taken students to unfamiliar locations in which they found themselves challenged to value other cultures and communities. He can recall team bus rides where music or language choices might have clashed with stated ideals of mutual respect and awareness.
“I am so happy to be part of the changes that are happening at CA right now,” he states. “I truly want my office to be the place where people come to talk and work through things. Having a teacher come in to discuss the program, even having a student stop by for a quick check-in after practice—those are the moments that excite me.”
There’s excitement around the school, too. When it was announced that Hill would be taking on the Athletic Director role, three of his players sent him a video welcome in which they cheered, “Mr. Coach Jon Hill!” And a few years ago, when Seniors dedicated the Telesis yearbook to this “approachable, accessible leader who inspires and motivates student-athletes to do their best,” they wrote, “His ability to make everyone feel important is truly a gift that the whole community benefits from.”