Newspaper Article Archive of
Four hours prior to Highland’s appearance in the 2016 state baseball tournament, the players and coaches were in a room at the University of Iowa Hospitals visiting former Huskie coach Mike Mills.
Mills, who was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma in May of 2016, was still aiding the Huskies a year after his retirement.
He traveled to Troy Mills on Saturday to scout Lisbon and North Linn in the district final. On Wednesday he was in the hospital as Highland defeated North Linn 3-2 to reach the state baseball tournament for the first time since 1984.
“He was very sick and still made time to help us beat whomever we were going to play at substate,” said Highland assistant coach Ryan Ronan, who coached with Mills during the previous season.
“In a way, Mike was still coaching our kids even though he wasn’t coaching. He charted everything both teams did. It helped us go to state last year!”
On Friday, the team gathered around Mills and his son Jared at the hospital in Iowa City. The team presented him with a game ball signed by each of the players. It was 10 minutes that left a lasting impression on the young athletes.
“Playing in the state game was fun, but the highlight of the day was seeing our kids visit Mike and seeing the smile on Mike’s face,” Ronan said.
“It was so raw and pure! So Genuine! I wanted our kids to see what life is really like. I wanted them to see why relationships are important. I wanted them to see why life is precious and so are the people we love each day.”
Mike passed away on Sunday, July 9, 2017. He left his mark on the community as a coach and as a mentor.
“I will always remember Mike for the way he approached life, having fun and loving the relationships he had with people in his life,” Ronan said.
“He loved his children and wife, always talked about them. He always talked about how proud he was of his kids.
“He greeted me at the field every day with a handshake. He would call me coach and then he would ask me how my family was doing. He would do this with the biggest of smiles. The man chased relationships, not trophies.”
Lone Tree’s Erik Murry played for Mills in a Babe Ruth League in Hills.
“He didn’t just coach baseball,” Murry said. “He taught you about life and how to be a better person on and off the field. He was a person that everyone looked up to, and wanted to play for.”
Lane Welsh was a freshman at Highland in 2012, dealing with family issues and a broken down car. Mills fixed the car so Welsh could attend practices and games. He offered Welsh a job at Stutsman’s, where Mills was the shop manager and Welsh worked there for four years earning money for college.
“Mike Mills was really the epitome of a father during my middle school and high school years,” Welsh said.
“As far as character on the field, Mike was always available. Never hesitant to teach new skills and put in the hours to make a player better. I can remember times where I could call him up to meet me at the batting cage and work on drills for hours. Sometimes late into the night.”
Mills approached life and the game of baseball with an attitude that left an impression on everyone who knew him.
“He taught me to always fight the doubt and adversity with positivity,” Welsh said.
“To take the world head on with no regrets. Whether we won or lost, he was there to look ahead and work towards the goal. That’s the kind of man I strive to be.
“If anything should be known about Mike Mills, it’s that life is too short to not live with compassion and hope. To chase your dreams, and show respect towards others, and when you finally get to where you want to be, stay humble. That alone will bring you happiness and a sense of completion.”
On the field, Mills was known for teaching winning fundamentals, winning attitudes, and how to execute a perfect squeeze play.
“Everywhere we traveled as a team this year, coaches had stories about Mike Mills,” Ronan said.
“Pekin’s coach Pi Rieckert said it best, ‘Coach Mills could take a cowboy and turn him into a ball player.’ ”