Mark Hill Makes a Lasting Impact on USA Judo

by Nicole Jomantas

Mark Hill was presented an honorary black belt by the USA Judo Board of Directors at the President's Cup. (Photo by USA Judo)

(Colorado Springs, Colo.) – When Mark Hill (Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.) first took up judo as an 8-year-old boy in Longview, Texas in the 1950s, he had no idea how the sport would intertwine with his life and the impact he would someday make on the organization that would later become USA Judo.

Hill also wouldn’t know that he would cross paths with his childhood sensei, future USA Judo Lifetime Achievement Award winner Ace Sukigara (Colleyville, Texas), years later, when walking on campus as a college freshman at Texas Christian University where Sukigara started a judo club while attending graduate school at TCU.

Although Hill only joined the club for a year, his experiences as a judoka stayed with him as he finished his undergrad at TCU and went on to earn his law degree from the University of Texas.

“Jigoro Kano was an educator and he started judo as an education system and it’s through education that judo has it’s greatest promise,” said Hill. “It’s not just the throws and the holds that a young person walks away with. They walk away with principles on how they ought to live their life.”

Later in his professional career, Hill met an associate fresh out of law school in the 1990s whose love for the sport of judo had become a lifelong passion. That young attorney was Jeff LeForce (Dallas, Texas) – then an aspiring referee who was introduced to judo while attending Georgetown Law.

“When I became a managing partner in a law firm, I’d always ask the baby lawyers ‘What’s your passion? What do you do outside of this because you’re subscribing to a pretty vigorous way of life,’” Hill recalled. “I had a young lawyer say that he loved judo and he wanted to be an international referee and it was the passion of his life and I told him my history with judo.”

Hill and LeForce would cross paths again decades later when LeForce was chair of the USA Judo Nominating Committee and searching for independent directors for the USA Judo Board in 2014. Remembering Hill’s expertise in corporate governance and past experience with the sport, LeForce asked if Hill would consider an independent director position with USA Judo.

“I said ‘Only if I could help.’ I didn’t need it on my resume and I only wanted to do it if I could really help. To me, my passion for judo were the principles behind it, not the technical aspects of it,” said Hill who began his role as an independent director in 2015.

Two years later, Hill was elected as president of the organization.

“I didn’t run for president,” Hill laughed. “Christal Ransom said ‘I’ll nominate Mark Hill.’ And I said ‘Listen, I’m not running for this. If you want to have a change in this organization, I’d be more than glad to help, but if you’re looking for someone with experience in judo, I’m not the one.’”

Hill’s fellow board members reelected him as president in 2018 to a term that ends on Dec. 31, 2022.

During his tenure, Hill worked with the board and USA Judo CEO Keith Bryant (Colorado Springs, Colo.) to make a positive impact on the organization.

“Our focus was on the constituents, on the athletes, on the clubs, on the members. This organization isn’t run for just the elite athletes, it’s run for all of the constituents,” Hill said. “When I joined the board, we were under a Section 10 proceeding with the USOPC. We were negatively cash flowing. We had less than ideal governance policies in place. Since that time, we modified the way we do business and I will give Keith Bryant a whole lot of credit for this because we work as a team. We opened it up to become more transparent. There was a positive cash flow and membership levels grew to the highest levels ever reported.”

Bryant, who joined USA Judo as the organization’s executive director in 2016 after a 20-year career in the Olympic and Paralympic Movement, praised Hill for the impact he has had on USA Judo during the last seven years.

“USA Judo and I owe Mark Hill a great debt of gratitude.Having someone in the chair role like Mark was very timely for USA Judo given the significant changes in governance and compliance taking place in the Olympic and Paralympic Movement that directly impacted our organization,” Bryant said. “Mark has a way of breaking down complex matters in ways everyone can understand and served the organization with a great passion for the development of judo in America.While Mark's role on the board will be missed, I hope he will continue to engage in other areas of USA Judo.”

At the President’s Cup in November, Bryant and the USA Judo Board of Directors presented Hill with an honorary black belt in recognition of his contributions to the organization.

“I was genuinely touched by it because I certainly didn’t undertake this endeavor with the idea that there’d be some honor or award attached to it,” Hill said. “It’s been rewarding, the number of amazing people I’ve gotten to meet in the sport. The heart and soul of judo are the people that are part of our family and that’s true not only in this country, but also the number of people I’ve met from around the world that are involved in this sport has been very rewarding.”

At the November meeting, the newly elected board members voted to elect five-time Veteran World Team member Joe Ragan (Austin, Texas) as the organization’s chair – a decision the new board will formally vote on during its first meeting in January.

“Joe is the right person at the right time to take the reins at USA Judo and understand ‘take the reins’ means simply to serve in a leadership role because it is a group effort,” Hill said. “No one board member, including the president, has the authority to do anything. It’s the leadership and guidance that the president provides that sets a course for the whole board to act. But he’s the right person at the right time.”

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