Hightower honored to sculpt Greer statue
HUNTINGTON — Personal feelings are critical for any artist gaining motivation for a project.
For Frederick Hightower Sr., there is plenty of motivation for the latest piece he is working on.
The Huntington native was chosen by a committee formed at the request of Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert, who wanted to see a statue of Marshall basketball legend Hal Greer erected on campus following Greer’s passing in April 2018.
“It is absolutely fitting that Marshall University honor not only one of the finest student-athletes ever to play here, but also our first black scholarship student-athlete,” Gilbert said. “I’ve talked to a number of people who
knew Hal, and I’m incredibly proud to call him a Son of Marshall. He was a great basketball player and, as I’ve been told, a wonderful person and role model. One of my hopes since coming to Marshall was that there would be another opportunity to highlight Hal’s legacy at Marshall. I can’t wait to see the finished statue.”
Hightower described himself as “humbled” to be called on for the important task of completing the statue, which will stand at the corner of 3rd Avenue and 18th Street near Cam Henderson Center.
For Hightower, the feelings toward the statue take on a greater meaning than just erecting a statue. It represents a man who was a leader within his hometown. Hightower’s father, James Hightower, actually graduated from Douglass High School — the same school as Greer.
Even Hightower himself has ties, having grown up on Doulton Avenue, which is fittingly off of Hal Greer Boulevard.
On Saturday, Hightower spoke of that importance during a ceremony with the Tip-Off Club prior to Marshall’s game against Western Kentucky.
“My dad grew up in the Fairfield area and went to Douglass, so Hal Greer’s a local hero in the area,” Hightower said. “We’re just really honored because he was more than a basketball player. He was a trailblazer for civil rights, in a sense. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think that we would have the Michael Jordans and the LeBron Jameses. He was the one that first opened the door, so I believe that this memorial is a tribute to the things that he and others did during that period.”
Hightower explained that the sculpture will stand 7 1/2 feet tall and will feature Greer shooting his trademark one-handed jumper in his No. 16 Marshall uniform.
“It’s definitely going to be the one-hand jump shot,” Hightower said. “We felt that was his trademark and his bread-and-butter, so I think that would be the best representation. He was a good assist man, he was a good fast-break man, but I think that this was where, you might say, his genius was.”
Hightower went on to say that the rendering would feature a more slender Greer — he did not bulk up until his NBA years — with flames coming from his feet in the midst of the jump shot.
“To me, that is symbolic of being a trailblazer,” Hightower said.
Hightower said the slender figure is important to the piece, as well.
Just as Greer’s wife, Mayme, and sister, Jean, said that perfection in detail was what made Greer a great player, Hightower said accuracy is crucial to the statue’s success.
“I try to be as accurate as possible. Everything is measured out ... ,” Hightower said. “There are more portraits of him playing in the league than college. In pro, he’s a lot more muscular, so we’re going to try and do a representation of him more from when he was at Marshall University.”
Hightower has sculpted other signature pieces within the state, including a life-sized sculpture of West Virginia State graduate and retired NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson prior to her 100th birthday.
Much like that piece for a figure who meant so much on a state, national and world level, Hightower hopes this latest piece is one that sheds light not only on the importance of Greer himself, but the university and community also.
“We want people to know that this is more than just another college — that truly great athletes have come from here,” Hightower said. “It’s an honor to perpetuate the legacy of this university, and I think that it will be something that will be a hallmark for Huntington itself. Many of these monuments ... people come in and they want to see.
“If people are traveling down (Interstate) 64, and they are like, ‘Hey, we want to see this monument of Hal Greer at Marshall University.’ Then, maybe if they have kids, they will come to Marshall University. If it can help the college and the university and the city, I think that will be my contribution to my community.”