Aquilla Hills couldn’t believe what she was hearing.The 27-year-old Charlotte woman had planted the seeds for developing her own youth wrestling program. But when longtime Charlotte Pit Bulls coach John Carothers called her last month to tell her he wanted her to take over his program, Hills was ecstatic.“When she got done talking with him … she said ‘Yes, God, yes,’ ” said her father, John Hills. “She started getting excited. She said it’s going to happen. To her, God did all this for her. He brought everything to her.”Tragically, Hills will not have the chance to live out her dream. On Dec. 15, she was killed in a one-car accident at the Mallard Creek Church Road exit of Interstate 85 north of Charlotte.The Pit Bulls, which practice at Revolution Sports Academy, is a wrestling program for kindergartners to high school seniors that specializes in AAU competition. The team lost its future leader and a vital assistant coach who set an example of overcoming obstacles to become a champion in the sport.Raised in the wrestling breeding ground of Pennsylvania, Hills, whose friends called her “Q,” started wrestling when she was 8. Her father coached in a youth program where she and her younger brother, Aquan, competed.Hills mostly battled boys on the mat, and always held her own. When she found tournaments for females, Hills excelled, all the way through college.Gayle Hills remembered one of the meets in which her daughter wrestled as a freshman at Truman High School, outside of Philadelphia. “This kid comes out there and he’s all muscle- bound,” said Gayle. “And I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s going to hurt my baby.’ She pinned him. And later on, he quit wrestling all together.”Hills won four female wrestling high school state championships and earned all-American status in 2003. At the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky., Hills became an all-American on its all-female wrestling team.By the time she graduated college, her family had moved to the University City area. After rejoining her mom and dad, Aquan, and sister, Eliza, in Charlotte, Aquilla expressed interest in coaching.Once people realized how serious she was about wrestling, Hills didn’t have much difficulty finding wrestling programs that welcomed her help. But as when she competed, there were those who doubted a female could coach males.“She went through a lot of adversity,” said Carothers. “Wrestling is a male-dominated sport. You don’t see a lot of African-Americans wrestling. And she was small. She had a lot of things going against her. And she conquered it all.”Hills was an assistant to head coach Greg Davidson for one year each at Independence and Vance High schools. When Davidson moved on to Garinger, Hills took over Vance’s program for the 2011-12 season, making her what is believed to be the first female high school wrestling coach in North Carolina.Three years ago, Hills started volunteering with the Pit Bulls. She showed up to coach at practices and helped with administrative duties at tournaments. One of the Pit Bulls she bonded with was Isaiah Johnson.“She was a very joyful woman,” said Johnson, a 14-year-old from Kannapolis. “She knew how to connect with the kids. She was kind and generous. If you did something wrong she wouldn’t yell at you, she would just tell you what you were doing wrong and how to correct it.”Hills was even more excited about the Pit Bulls this season, posting yard signs and posters around the city to generate more interest.Carothers couldn’t believe the phone call he received with the news of her death. He called all of his wrestlers’ parents to break the news.The team gathered at practice the week after and remembered Hills for what she meant to the program.Eight-year-old Michael McCane wrote his thoughts about how much he missed his coach on composition paper and presented it to her father at Aquilla’s funeral.John Hills and Aquan Hills have told Carothers that they will help coach the Pit Bulls this season. They are considering taking over the program full-time next year to continue Aquilla’s dream.
Friday, Jan. 04, 2013
Wreck ends wrestling coach’s dream
Aquilla Hills was set to lead Charlotte Pit Bulls
Pit Bulls wrestling coach John Carothers, left, sits with Gayle and John Hills, parents of Aquilla Hills, a Pit Bulls assistant coach killed Dec. 15 in a car accident. JOE HABINA