- Associated Press - Thursday, May 1, 2014

SEYMOUR, Ind. (AP) - Heather Hill’s job description includes a rare requirement: The Seymour native must have fun.

As outreach educator for the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, Hill travels to schools around the Bluegrass State, teaches students of all ages about the derby in an interactive way and shares her experiences on her blog, “Heather on the Highway.”

“The mission of the museum is ‘sharing the fun of the Kentucky Derby experience,’” Hill told The Tribune (https://bit.ly/1mh3U0Z ). “I’m required to have fun - not many jobs tell you to do that.”

This Saturday is the 140th Kentucky Derby, where jockeys and their 3-year-old thoroughbred horses will race one-and-a-quarter miles at Churchill Downs.

About 150,000 people are expected to attend, and some will travel long distances to sport fancy attire and bet on what is also known as “The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports” and “The Run for the Roses.”

Hill will be among them, but her wardrobe will include tennis shoes as she oversees the details on the fringes of the race at the museum gift shop.

The 27-year-old took the position with the museum in January 2013. She travels to schools in different counties about three to four days a week, often to rural areas that have high poverty rates.

She’s also visited home in her new role, speaking at the Jackson County Community Theatre in Brownstown in February about the Kentucky Derby’s history.

“My job is to take the fun of the museum to those who can’t take the trip. It’s really exciting because you never know what you’re in for,” Hill said.

Hill has had questions thrown at her from youngsters that have stumped her - giving her homework when she gets back to the office. After all, Hill didn’t grow up around horses, nor did she ever attend the derby before taking the job.

One stumper came early in her days on the job - how many feet are in a length? A little research led Hill to the answer: There is no set measurement; in general a length is the length of a thoroughbred race horse.

She continues to study and learned most of what she needed to know through a “derby boot camp” with her boss, Ronnie Dreistadt, the curator of education, the first month she started.

Hill has also been entertained by the creativity of the kids she meets - like when a student once told her he wanted to name a horse David Hasselhoof.

“I laughed for two hours on the way back to Louisville,” Hill said.

Despite the education program allowing the kids to laugh and have fun, it also teaches them subjects such as science, learning how rocks become dirt like that used on the track at Churchill Downs.

“Every one of our programs hits core content value standards,” Hill said.

When she’s not on the road visiting schools, her time is spent at the museum.

“The (museum) is the next best thing to coming to the Derby itself,” she said. “We have two floors of hands-on, interactive exhibits. It’s really family-friendly and full of games.”

She’s also taken on a role this year as an FFA coordinator, helping with the national convention in Louisville. More than 18,000 high school students attended last year, she said of the youth farm organization.

Hill graduated from Seymour High School in 2005 and is the daughter of Tim and Suzy Hill of Seymour.

Growing up, working at Churchill Downs didn’t cross her mind. She had only seen the Derby on television.

“I had always watched it on TV, but that doesn’t even compare to being here in the city during (this) time,” she said.

Hill graduated from Indiana University at Bloomington in 2010, majoring in art education. She completed student teaching in Kayenta, Arizona, on a Navajo reservation.

“I always had an interest in Native American culture,” she said.

She also taught ceramics for two years at the Southern Indiana Center for the Arts in Seymour.

Hill eventually looked for jobs in the Louisville area - drawn to its music and lifestyle - and landed the position at the museum.

She attended her first Kentucky Derby this past May.

Wearing a fancy hat and poncho to avoid the rain, Hill helped welcome group visitors and handed out gift bags and wrist bands.

She also had the opportunity to escort race sponsors from their suite to the paddock area and into the winner’s circle.

“We were in the elevator when the Marines stepped in with the (Kentucky) Oaks Trophy. It was pretty surreal,” she said. The Kentucky Oaks is the Derby’s sister race for 3-year-old fillies that takes place on the Friday before the Derby.

In addition to helping with crowd control at the museum’s gift shop, Hill also will lead field trips, tours of exhibits and answer questions.

She said employees fill in where they can during this time of year, often working long days.

On a recent Sunday, she spent time on what’s called the Backside, watching the Oaks and Derby horses work out. She said she’s excited to meet different people and listen in on some of the live interviews that will take place this weekend on CNN, the Travel Channel and ESPN.

Her boss is in charge of the trophy this year, and he’ll take it down to the winner’s circle and set it up.

“It’s a lot of fun being able to watch all of that - I always learn so much,” she said.

Hill described everyone around her as in “Derby mode” right now - including herself.

“We’re days away, and you can feel the excitement in the air,” Hill said.


Information from: The (Seymour) Tribune, https://www.tribtown.com

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