Late Hillside High principal remembered as athlete, educator, scholar

Richard Hicks (right, 21) is pictured with NCCU Coach Herman Riddick (center) and an unidentified player in a 1962 yearbook photo.
Richard Hicks (right, 21) is pictured with NCCU Coach Herman Riddick (center) and an unidentified player in a 1962 yearbook photo.

Former Hillside High School principal Richard Hicks was remembered this week as an outstanding athlete, educator and scholar who impacted the lives of thousands of Durham children during a tenure at the historically black high school that spanned nearly 15 years.

Hicks, 75, died Sunday following a short illness.

The Rocky Mount native led Hillside from 1986 to 2001, and was the principal who oversaw the school’s move from Concord Street near the N.C. Central University campus to its current location on Fayetteville Street.

Hicks was also principal at junior high schools in Rocky Mount and in Orange County before being hired to lead Hillside.

“Richard [Hicks] was an outstanding educator,” said Sterling Holt, a former NCCU basketball coach who attended the university with Hicks in the early 1960s. “He met the kids where their needs were. We can’t count the number of kids who went on to college who had no intentions of going before they went to Hillside.”

School board member Minnie Forte-Brown said Hicks brought a tradition of “academic and athletic” excellence to Hillside.

“He was an iconic principal,” Forte-Brown said. “He knew what academics and athletics could do. He was a stickler for making sure there was discipline in academics and also on the field. He made sure that children soared under his leadership academically and athletically.”

Wendell Tabb was hired by Hicks to lead the school’s drama department in 1987.

“It was his love and support of the arts that propelled our theater program into the national and international spotlight,” Tabb said. “I owe so much to him because he believed in our students and teachers. He was a great mentor and friend. He will truly be missed but his legacy will live with us forever.”

Mayor Bill Bell’s daughter attended Hillside during Hicks’ tenure.

“I found him to be a tough disciplinarian but in a caring way,” Bell said.

A forever Eagle

Hicks, a 1963 graduate of NCCU, was a standout athlete and scholar there, graduating cum laude with a bachelor’s of science degree.

He was the Eagles’ quarterback from 1959 to 1962 and a member of the 1961 CIAA championship team, winning honorable mention All-CIAA and Pittsburgh Courier All-America that season.

Hicks had previously been named Most Outstanding freshman in the 1959 season and Most Outstanding sophomore in the 1960 season.

He is a member of the NCCU Hall of Fame.

Before moving into school administration, Hick was an accomplished high school coach.

He coached football, baseball and basketball at Booker T. Washington High School in Rocky Mount and then later was the Rocky Mount Senior High basketball coach.

Coached Phil Ford

He was at Rocky Mount from 1968-75 where he coached the legendary Phil Ford, who went on to star at UNC-Chapel Hill and play in the NBA.

Ford, who played for Hicks in grades 10-12, said in an interview Tuesday that Hicks came into his life during the time he was developing as an athlete and being heavily recruited by the top colleges in the country.

“I thank God I had Coach Hicks in my life,” Ford said. “He had to teach me to accept my athletic abilities on the basketball court. I never cared about the individual aspects of the game. He’d get mad at me because I wouldn’t shoot.”

Ford said it was Hicks who help to guide him and his family through Ford’s senior year when Ford was being aggressively recruited to play college basketball.

“I think being a great athlete and being a great student-athlete helped him to understand what I was going through,” Ford said. “He took a lot of pressure off of me. I can never repay him. He made it possible for me to enjoy my senior year.”

Hicks was president of the N.C. High School Athletic Association Board of Directors in 1994-95 and has earned a number of recognitions from the association.

Hicks holds a master’s degree in administration from East Carolina University.

He is a member of Phi Delta Kappa honor society, and was named Administrator of the Year by the Mathematics and Science Education Network in 1989.

Hicks was head coach of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association East All-Star basketball team in 1974.

He also served as a director of the Tar Heel Association of Principals, as a visiting lecturer at NCCU and as a member of the North Carolina State Superintendent’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.

Hicks is survived by wife, Kathlyn Dudley Hicks, Russel Hicks, brother, Harold Richard Hicks (Andrea), Russell Hicks (Cellosa) and Thomas D. Kimble, sons and Ashlee Hicks, Harrison Hicks, Chandler Hicks, Camdyn Hicks and Tristan Kimble, grandchildren.

He is also survived by a host of other family and friends.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645