Stephan Hill had no idea he had been nominated to be recognized by the Boston Celtics’ Heroes Among Us program, sponsored by the Massachusetts State Lottery. So when he received the call from the program director, he didn’t know quite what to say.
“It was just out of the blue,” he said. “I had never heard of this and started to look them up and found out it’s really cool.”
Hill was honored at the TD Garden during the March 11 game when the Celtics faced off against the Indiana Pacers. He was given four tickets to the game and took along his two sons, Jack and Henry, along with the brother who nominated him, Noah.
The Heroes Among Us Award is presented to an individual or individuals who, through their unique commitment and humanitarian spirit, have made exceptional and lasting contributions to the community.
Hill, the general manager of The Mill Wharf Restaurant, had been at work during Storm Grayson, which hit the South Shore at the beginning of January, and witnessed Scituate Harbormaster Stephen Mone fall into the harbor after Mone lost his balance while trying to secure the harbormaster boat.
Hill called for a co-worker to call 911 before he ran out into the storm and down to the docks, where he threw himself down and tried to grab Mone, who was holding on to a cleat for dear life.
Mone has said he was growing weak and his fingers were numb. He thought he was going to die.
Hill, he said, saved his life.
For his quick thinking and courage, Hill was honored as a Hero Among Us.
As the accolades have been bestowed upon Hill for such a heroic act, he has remained his usual low-key self. His visit to TD Garden as a VIP guest, however, brought the spotlight directly on him, literally.
“From the moment we got there someone from the organization was with us and they stayed with us the whole time,” Hill said. “We got to go in before the other ticket holders and we got a tour the backstage area; places no one knows even exist. We saw the players’ cars and where the players park. They took us through the same runway after the players.”
The group got to hang out courtside while the players warmed up, Hill added.
“They treat you like a real VIP,” he said. “They’re great people; as nice as you can imagine. You feel like you’re the only person who exists that night.”
Everything that was going to happen was explained to Hill detail by detail.
“It’s all done during a timeout; it’s not televised,” he said. “It had to be very coordinated. Everything they said would happen happened just as they said it would. They have it down to a science.”
Before the game started Hill’s family was led to their seats, and Hill was escorted to the court where he watched the players warm up as a way of giving him perspective about standing out on the famed parquet floor.
“They told me it would only be a minute and a half out there but that it would feel like five hours,” he said. “I walked out alone and stood there alone. I was as nervous as hell. You know all eyes are on you.”
There was someone on the side of the court, right in front of him, directing things, Hill said.
“I was getting hand signals on when I should turn and when to wave; I had to do a 360 and wave. I did a twirl. I’m holding Red Auerbach’s trophy. The announcer is reading what I did and people are clapping. I was told there would be clapping and a standing ovation, and there was. Even the Celtic players were clapping. When I started to walk off court people were giving me high-fives. Donnie Wahlberg was sitting courtside. He was the first one to shake my hand.”
The experience was one Hill won’t soon forget.
“I think the program is amazing,” he said. “They’ve honored people from age 4 to age 104.
"And the fans are amazing. The reception you get is incredible. People could have been like, ‘OK, whatever, I’m going to go have a beer,’ but you literally get a standing ovation from 18,000 people. It was great. Time kind of stopped for a minute and a half.”
Follow Ruth Thompson on Twitter @scituateruth.