By Ian “Magic” Hughes
When Freeman’s Ville take the field to open the 2015-2016 ABFA First Division season, they will do so with a new head coach. Former national team player Akeilah “Granny” Hillhouse is the first female to hold that title having been appointed less than a week ago to the newly-promoted club.
Hillhouse’s new role puts her in a trailblazer role as the first woman to coach a men’s team. General Secretary Gordon “Banks” Derrick said he’s unaware that this feat has been accomplished anywhere else in the region.
This is not Hillhouse’s first time breaking down gender barriers. She created history more than a decade ago when as a schoolgirl she played in the Premier Division with Sap. She was the only female in the team and in the league.
Hillhouse, who said she is in love with her new appointment, was not surprised when Freeman’s Ville came calling.
“When the ABFA announced that all teams participating in the leagues need to have certified coaches, I knew that it was just a matter of time before someone would approach me,” Hillhouse said.
She was tight-lipped about the names of other clubs that approached her, saying only that choosing Freeman’s Ville was an easy decision.
“When I was home in Christmas (last year), I watched a game between them (Freeman’s Ville) and Villa Lions and fell in love with the team,” Hillhouse said.
“There was just something about them that I thought I could work with and, when I was approached, while I did not immediately accept, I relished the idea,” she added.
After two visits to observe the team practice, Hillhouse said she had certain stipulations, which were accepted, clearing the way for her to accept the offer.
“I did not want this appointment to be a camouflage in order to suit the requirements of the ABFA,” the newly-minted head coach said. “I had to make sure that if I accepted the job that the club, players and executive would understand that I am in control as the coach. So far, I have had the support of the club and I am pleased to be here.”
Having played at the university level and after being exposed to various coaching styles, Hillhouse is of the view that her open-minded approach is something that the players accept. “I think that we have a good group of guys and this is a team I can work with,” she said.
“I do things differently from what they are accustomed to. I am, however, very open to the views and opinions of the players and other members of the club, and that seems to resonate with them. I am looking ahead to a good and successful season,” Hillhouse added.
President of Freeman’s Ville Harrison “Jesse Fire” Benjamin said while the club was cognizant that they would make waves and earn mileage with the historic appointment, at the heart of the decision is respect for Hillhouse’s ability.
“I have known her since School League and I was confident that she would have been able to bring the best out of the team,” Benjamin said.
“I also knew that this appointment would bring a level of recognition to the club. We want people to know that Freeman’s Ville is still here,” Benjamin added.
There’s a marked difference in the players in the short time since the appointment, Benjamin said, adding, “They respect her. When she is around there is a level of maturity in the players’ actions that is welcoming.”
He added, “They seem to pay attention to the fact that she is a female and there are certain behaviors that are not accepted around her. That, I believe, will translate to a more mature team and a higher level of concentration during matches throughout the season. I am really glad she accepted,” Benjamin said.
Before this new job, Hillhouse crafted a stellar career, starting with representing Jennings Secondary School, and as a national striker.
She then attended the University of South Carolina before transferring to Webber International in Florida.
Hillhouse graduated third in her class, with a 3-5 GPA and a degree in marketing degree.
All parties are expecting that she will bring the same intensity and commitment to perfection to the head coach position.
In fact, the president of the club said Freeman’s Ville has set sight on the top flight in the near future.
“It would be a joy to have Freeman’s Ville in the Premier Division with the first female coach standing on the sidelines,” the president said.
Working to execute this vision alongside Benjamin and Hillhouse are Vice President Dheava Dean; Manager Sharon Kentish; Chairman Kevin Hunte; Treasurer Ewarla Piper; and Equipment Manager Jenna Ferris. Former midfielder Marcus Kelman is the assistant coach.