Baseball carried Hill Denson down many roads
From his hometown of Bay Springs to his induction into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Hill Denson followed his baseball dreams. In fact, Denson has been inducted into seven halls of fame. His dreams have spanned a five-decade career in the game, beginning in 1966 at Chamberlain-Hunt Academy and concluding in 2019 at Belhaven University as head coach. During his 33 years of coaching college baseball, he won over 1,000 games, including 468 games at Southern Mississippi and 613 games at Belhaven. He also had 216 wins in his high school coaching career at Callaway, Manhattan and Chamberlain-Hunt. More than official stats, Denson valued relationships forged with his players over the years. “I enjoyed everything about my baseball experience. I liked being around the kids – I even enjoyed the bus trips – but teaching those kids not only about baseball but also about things such as how to have good manners was important to me,” stated Denson.
Among Denson’s notable accomplishments was Denson’s establishing USM as a nationally recognized baseball power. His 14-year leadership of the Golden Eagles included a dozen straight winning seasons and two NCAA tournament appearances. “My thoughts were to build a program that our fans could take pride in. I wanted to produce good teams year in and year out, to the point that our people cared if we won or lost,” said Denson. Building a baseball program from scratch involved more than coaching, however. Denson sold advertising and season tickets while doing plumbing, painting and janitorial work. The result was an increase in fan attendance led to the addition of the Right Field Roost and the renovation of Pete Taylor Park.
One former player who is particularly thankful for Denson’s impact on his life as well as his dedication to USM’s baseball program is Fred Cooley. “He really sold USM baseball to the community and helped lead USM to being competitive with other major college programs. Much of what you see at the stadium now is a product of his leadership and vision. It was an honor playing for him.”
In 1997 Denson left Southern Mississippi a changed culture. The program that had once relied mostly on family members of players to attend games grew under Denson into one that was ranked in the Top 20 nationally in attendance with an average of over 2,000 fans. During his tenure Denson was a two-time Metro Conference Coach of the Year while producing eight All-Americans and having 35 players sign professional contracts. Two years after his retirement, Denson was honored by having USM’s baseball field named after him.
After a stint in the athletic department at USM, Denson decided the coat and tie position was not for him. So he decided to return to his roots in Jackson to coach baseball at Belhaven. He was again successful as the Blazers’ program grew, and he led the school to their only NAIA World Series in 2010. He led the program to six conference championships.
“Mississippi is one of the best baseball playing states in the country from high school to junior college to senior college, and I am glad I have had a small part in the growth of the sport,” stated Denson.
Denson is still involved in baseball as a site rep for the NCAA regionals and Super Regionals. He and his wife, Judy, play jam sessions on a regular basis in the Jackson area and have ventured recently into Hattiesburg. Denson plays the drums while Judy sings. Judy and Denson were married in 1968. Judy was a longtime TV personality in Jackson, Nashville and Hattiesburg. The couple has two daughters and two grandchildren.