Sports have the power to teach. Beyond the playing field, young athletes learn discipline, how to overcome failure, manage time and perhaps most importantly, work as a team.
Growing up in North Platte, Nebraska, Metropolitan State University of Denver alum Jerry Hilderbrand was a multi-sport athlete. After his college football career at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was cut short due to injury, he moved to Denver for a job but returned to school to pursue a second degree in accounting at then-Metropolitan State College, graduating Summa Cum Laude.
“Sports gave me the ability to work better in a team environment, to listen to all sides,” said the 1974 graduate. “Everyone on a team has a different story and you have to learn to work together.”
Early in his career, he worked for Coors Brewing and was sent to Nashville, Tennessee, to revive a fledgling subsidiary that had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. As the newly-appointed president of the subsidiary, it was his job to carry the company through the bankruptcy process to ensure fair outcomes for everyone involved—the company, the employees, and the creditors. It was time to put those teamwork skills to the test, and he did.
“It was my job to protect the company at all costs,” Hilderbrand said. “I worked with the HR department to determine which employees were contributing the most. But my most important work was sitting down with our biggest creditor to find a compromise that was fair for everyone involved. Sports gave me the opportunity to open my ears and realize I don’t have all the answers; we need to work as a team.”
Hilderbrand went on to work as a certified professional accountant for 35 years, building his own company in Colorado Springs into the largest single-owned accounting firm in the region. He specialized in litigation and worked large cases throughout the West.
Today, Hilderbrand still recognizes the critical role sports played in his life.
In 2013, Hilderbrand established the Hilderbrand Athletic/Academic Endowment to support Roadrunner student-athletes playing basketball and majoring in business, later expanding to include all MSU Denver student-athletes. With an affinity for NCAA Division II sports, he believes education is the most crucial aspect of college.
“In Division II, it’s not just about sports; it’s about getting a meaningful degree,” he said. “The intention of my scholarship is to emphasize academics and reward academically qualified students, but maybe not good enough to get a full-ride athletics scholarship.”
Current scholarship recipient, women’s basketball senior Brianna Bailey, fits Hilderbrand’s vision: she is a winner of numerous academic awards, including the 2022 Division II Academic Achievement Award, contributing to the conference championship team as one of the top three-point shooters. She completed her undergraduate degree in pre-healthcare in 2022 and is currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration at MSU Denver.
According to Bailey, the scholarship helps her pursue her goal of working in medical device sales after graduation by easing the financial burden of college.
“It allows me to have a better, well-rounded, student-athlete career,” she said. “I don’t have to focus on finances so much – I can concentrate on basketball and school.”
Hilderbrand credits his time at MSU Denver for getting where he is today, saying it turned his career around; the College of Business and the University hold a special place in his heart. It is the reason he wants to support students for generations to come.
“It’s never left me how valuable my education was,” he said. “It motivated me to establish the scholarship endowment, which will last forever.
“I wanted to do something to reward future Roadrunners.”