A Day in the life: Robert Hilson

It has been quite the journey as Sports Editor at The Brock Press over this last year. I’ve developed as a writer, editor and even my sports knowledge has grown. However, a lot of the credit to my increased knowledge in sports, especially Brock Athletics, is due to Robert Hilson. Hilson is the Director of Marketing and Business Development within Brock Athletics, and has been my number one go-to when I’m in need of any information in regards to Brock Athletics, Ontario University Athletics (OUA) or Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS).

I can confidently say that I’m not the only one whom Hilson has had a positive impact on. If you were to speak to other students who are involved closely with Brock Athletics, they would probably all agree with me that Hilson has been of great help to them, as they wouldn’t be where they are without him. Other Brock Athletic employees probably agree to that as well.

Yes, this article is supposed to be the “day in a life” of Robert Hilson – we will get to that, but it was only right to praise Hilson’s ability to make everyone feel like they belong and can achieve whatever they want to. This includes the Brock University community as a whole. As individuals, Hilson has pushed students to achieve their goals, but he and Brock Athletics have made it a goal to make Brock the best CIS school. This means having winning programs, but more importantly having the best crowd in CIS.

Robert Hilson / stcatharinesstandard

Robert Hilson / stcatharinesstandard

“I see my role [as Director of Marketing and Business Development] as improving Brock each and every day,” said Hilson. “How can I improve our reputation, our recruitment, our retention, our student engagement, our alumni engagement, our community engagement and our infrastructure.”

If you listened to the tenth episode of The Brock Press Sports Corner Podcast, which included Hilson as a guest, you could hear it in his voice that he wanted to make Brock the best university it can be.

“At the end of the day, how can I build a better tomorrow for our Brock students and the Niagara community,” said Hilson.

Hilson’s career with Brock began in 2011 May 30 to be exact, so the five-year anniversary is quickly approaching. At the time of Hilson’s hiring, the Athletic Department was looking for “a fundraising, marketing, sponsorship and business-oriented,” person said former Director of Athletics and Recreation at Brock, Lorne Adams.

From there, the department announced the hiring of Hilson as the university’s sixth Director of Athletics and Recreation. Hilson fit all the descriptions Adams listed above, so it was suitable for both parties. Under this role, Hilson has been famous for the Student Life referendum, which passed in 2013 and levies a student fee of $20 per credit in exchange for access to The Zone as well as free attendance to Badgers home games for students. This levy has allowed for just over a million dollars to be invested annually between the Recreation Services and Athletics budgets, according to an article published by The Brock Press in 2014.

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In 2013, Robert Hilson helped pass the Student Life referendum to provide student free access to The Zone and free entrance to Brock sporting events.

Some notable results from these investments have been the expansion of non-varsity club teams and athletic training programs. Hilson also helped to pass a referendum in 2013 to use $1 million from the Brock University Student’s Union’s Strategic Expansion fund, which would go towards the construction of a turf field.

In 2014, Hilson stepped away from the Director of Athletics and Recreation role and entered his current role of Director of Marketing and Business Development.

“I spent the first 20 years of my career immersed in sport,” said Hilson. “My [current] role allows me to pursue my passion for business, marketing, communication, story-telling and I still get to enjoy my love for sport.”

“I also enjoy learning more about how the university functions, so that I can better serve the university.”

The role change also allows Hilson to continue to pursue his education and to teach at the college level. Currently, Hilson teaches in the Faculty of Business at Niagara College as he is a professor within the Sport Management program at the college. He is currently teaching Negotiations and Sport Law and has been teaching for two years. Hilson spends three hours per week teaching at Niagara College.

“After serving as a university administrator for 20 years, I decided that I needed to better understand the core mission of post-secondary education, that being teaching and learning,” said Hilson. “My experience in the classroom has taught me more than I have taught the students.”

Hilson’s favourite part of his position with Brock and being able to teach at Niagara College is the students. He enjoys the passion and energy students bring to help keep him feel young. However, Hilson being a Hamilton, Ontario native has to make the one hour drive to work every day, which he says is his least favourite part of the job.

That being said, only five of Hilson’s 20 years as an administrator have been with Brock. The McMaster University graduate, with a degree in Physical Education, joined the McMaster Men’s Basketball program as an assistant coach after graduation.

He would then spend 12 years at McMaster as the Manager of Marketing. Hilson was in charge of supervising the areas of marketing, communications, media relations, alumni relations, event management, scheduling, travel and information technology.

After McMaster, Hilson found himself at the University of Western as the Communications Manager with their Department of Athletics and Recreation. Hilson also spent some time as a communications coordinator for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and was a manager of Basketball Ontario’s provincial competitions.

His days with sports began at a very young age, as Hilson would watch his father play fastball. From there, Hilson began serving as a bat boy for his father’s team and then later would be a score keeper. Growing up Hilson played hockey and baseball, but later he took up tennis. In high school, Hilson participated in track and field and basketball.

Now, being a major figure with Brock’s Athletic and Recreation Department, Hilson does his best to serve the students. He gave an example of when I (or someone else from The Brock Press) contacts him, he is contributing to a student’s growth and development.

“I deeply understand that my primary goal in whatever I do is to serve students,” said Hilson. “As a leader, I believe in setting a vision; I believe in articulating a why; I believe in innovating and taking risks; and I believe in empowering the people.”

Every day for Hilson at Brock is different. His job can vary from marketing communication to dealing with alumni and to planning events and future improvement to Brock facilities.

Hilson’s off days away from Brock are spent with his family, and he has truly become a huge family person as he enjoys being with his son and family. He is also a student as Hilson enjoys the ability to learn, and does so through reading and exploring new ideas. Hilson also enjoys to travel, seeing new places and meeting new people.

“I would not have been able to do what I have done without [my family’s] support,” said Hilson. “My son Aaron went to his first CIS game when he was two weeks of age and he grew up on a university campus. I have eaten pizza dinner with my family in a classroom during a sporting event more times than I can count.”

Being someone who loves to learn, Hilson could see himself pursuing other career roles in the future. He isn’t ruling out a return to the Director of Athletics and Recreation role. He also sees himself as someone who could serve as a Dean of Students at a small or medium sized college or university. One of the more interesting future job aspirations Hilson could possibly pursue is a job in Europe, as he holds a dual citizenship (between Canada and Ireland), which he believes would be a great experience.

“My son will likely graduate from high school next year, so I have more freedom to move,” said Hilson. “I often wonder if I should consider pursuing my PhD in Education. I think I have finally discovered an area where I could become an expert and generator of new knowledge.”

In terms of what Hilson would like to accomplish within an athletic department, like at Brock, he has a couple ideas. In the past Hilson has been part of building a turf field and stadium, but has yet to be part of the construction of an arena (which obviously would be a huge addition to Brock Athletics). Also, in the past Hilson has helped host the CIS Championship in Curling, Rugby, Soccer, Volleyball and Wrestling. He hopes he can one day help host the CIS Men’s Basketball Final 8, something he has lost the bid on twice in the past.

Robert Hilson helped Brock University build Alumni Field through using funds from BUSU’s Strategic Expansion Fund in 2013.

Robert Hilson helped Brock University build Alumni Field through using funds from BUSU’s Strategic Expansion Fund in 2013.

The CIS Men’s Basketball being hosted by Brock has a lot of potential, as the university could team-up with the Meridian Centre to be a host. Next year the CIS will be hosted in Halifax, meaning the 2018 bid is still up for grabs and Brock is a serious contender.

Currently however, Hilson continues to work on helping Brock create the best environment for athletics. This year, the university made a name for itself as students were given the ability to travel (via buses paid for by the athletic department) to Laurier, Ryerson and Carleton to cheer on Brock’s basketball teams. All three trips have left a mark and has the CIS buzzing about the crowd Brock is represented by.

“Brock has demonstrated that we can engage our students,” said Hilson. “In the near future, we, Brock University can become known for providing the best extracurricular experience in Canada. We can become known as having the best Athletics and Recreation Department in Canada. We can become known for providing the best student engagement for a medium sized university.”

The success Brock has built in engaging students began five years ago with Hilson and former Brock students, which has now developed into the #WeAreReady team with Bawe Nsame and Mohammed Hassan.

“The concept of better engaging students began five years ago,” said Hilson. “The development of Homecoming, the Steel Blade Classic and President’s game. The concept was to empower students to deliver experiences for students. We are at the start of something tremendously special. We have the opportunity to differentiate ourselves from other universities. We have the opportunity to develop our reputation for providing the best student experience in Canada.”

Since coming to Brock, Hilson has been able to bring many ideas to the table and he has executed them all. He wanted to bring a student-first approach and that is exactly what has happened. Hilson is one of the best administrators at Brock in terms of being able to work with students to help them develop and gain experience.

“I am casting the vision for the We Are Ready team and from what I have seen to date, I am confident that in time, they can deliver on that vision,” said Hilson.

Hilson has built a name for himself within the Brock community, the OUA community and in the CIS. He has been around for 20 years, with three different post-secondary institutions. He has experienced a lot and has helped plan some of the biggest events in CIS.

If he wanted to, Hilson could pursue another job as he continues to build his own knowledge and experience. His goal to be able to help host a CIS Men’s Basketball Final will probably become a reality one day. More importantly, his goal to make Brock one of the best Athletic and Recreation Department is not far off.

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So, as we watch Brock Athletics grow and do great things, let’s not forget someone like Hilson. He is someone who may work more behind the scenes, but he has done a terrific job since 2011 to bring Brock Athletics to new heights.

Hilson has the ability to pursue other jobs, as his resume speaks for itself, but he understands that what he has started at Brock still has the ability to grow into a bigger and better experience for everyone. Now teaming up with Neil Lumsden, the new Brock Director of Athletics and Recreation, the two men have a combined knowledge of sports to bring more to the table.

Hilson has clearly been ready for a while to bring Brock Athletics to new heights. He has been patient with the whole process, and now this year we have seen that the Brock community is ready as well.

“I think we have the ability to expand the We Are Ready team,” said Hilson. “I believe we have the opportunity to expand to more sports, better engage the Niagara community and grow our reputation as the best fans in Canada across the CIS.”

Hilson has always been about the students, as he has allowed us all to grow and develop. He will continue to be a major part of Brock Athletics, but for the students that have worked closely with Hilson, their gained knowledge and experience will go a long way. This is all thanks to Hilson’s ability to be a strong leader.

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