ROHS Football Coach Resigns to Focus on Baby's Battle with Leukemia
Jeff Hill, on the job just one year, is stepping away from football to tackle his infant daughter's disease.
When Jeff Hill was named head coach of Royal Oak High School's football team last spring, he took on the huge challenge of turning around a 28-game losing streak and rebuilding community support. Now he is stepping away from that challenge to focus on an even bigger one: helping his 2-month-old daughter fight leukemia.
Maleena Hill, born Nov. 13, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia during the Christmas school break, when she was 6 weeks old.
"We took her in to get her checked out just after Christmas because she was a little fussy," said Hill, a Royal Oak native. "They came back after some bloodwork with a diagnosis of leukemia. That stops your world."
The disease is a cancer of the white blood cells characterized by excess lymphoblasts, or immature cells. The infant has already begun chemotherapy treatments.
"We're already looking at what will be an eight- to 12-week hospital stay," Hill explained. Maleena will go through several levels of chemotherapy while doctors also try to build her immune system.
'Family man first'
Players, fans and team boosters were caught off-guard by Hill's decision. Following on the heels of the news of school principal Michael Greening being put on paid administrative leave Dec. 16, some people initially thought the coach's resignation was part of the investigation into "possible financial irregularities" of a student activities fund.
"We were all blown back at first," senior quarterback Brandon Fredrikson said Thursday. "No one knew what he stepped down for."
Hill met with the team Thursday. Players said they understand that family comes before team.
"We can tell that he's a family man first because he stepped down from football — something that he loves — but he obviously loves his family more," Fredrikson said.
Hill opened his first season with an inspirational win that broke the Ravens' three-season losing streak. Although the team ended the season 1-8 under Hill, fans and alumni had come back to the football stadium and were behind the Dondero High School grad.
"I'm just very upset for him and his family, and I'm keeping them in my prayers," said Ravens Football Booster Club member Joann Fredrikson, Brandon's mother.
Royal Oak Superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin expressed the district's feelings in an email to Royal Oak Patch:
"We are most appreciative of the leadership Coach Hill provided to our football program over the past year," Lewis-Lakin said. "His work with the team had a very positive impact on the players and program. We are sad that he needs to step aside at this time. I will be keeping Coach Hill and his family in my thoughts and prayers."
Taking it day by day
Supporters are already asking how they can help support the Hill family and raise funds to battle the disease. However, Hill said he has not had time to totally formulate his game plan yet.
"It's just day by day, almost hour by hour, as we get information back from the doctors about her status," Hill said. "There has been an outpouring from the community already. Parents have been very generous."
The disease is "extremely, extremely rare," he said. "The doctors at Beaumont and Children's Hospital only see one case a year like this."
Still, Hill said he knew immediately what he had to do — and what was best for his family and his football team.
Maleena Hill is being treated at Children's Hospital in Detroit while Hill, his wife, Natalie, and first-grade daughter, Macy, work to maintain some type of normalcy.
"Right now, there's no time for anything else," said Hill, a special education teacher at Milford High School. "We're looking at a possibility of two years of treatment with a lot of outpatient stuff. For the next three months, I will have zero time for anything but my daughter and my family."
Hill doesn't want to put the team behind in its quest to improve. "It's hard to ask kids to give a commitment when you're not there at any time, and that's a big part of the off-season," he said. "And I told the kids today, and I told Mr. Gordon (ROHS athletic director) that I think the kids of this community deserve someone who can be a full-time coach."
Gordon was not available to comment on Hill's resignation or a search for a new head coach.