By Mark Beasley
Bill Mills has been the Minnewaska Activities Director for over 20 years. As the sports reporter for nearly 15 years, I’ve had to work closely with Bill pretty much every week, getting information so I can do my job. Bill has been fantastic to work with, always helpful, easy to get a hold of and prompt with a reply. I wish Bill the very best as he moves on to the next thing when the school year is over. This article will be in two parts, with part two coming next week.
The end of the 2021-2022 school year is nearing. For Minnewaska Area High School Activities Director Bill Mills, it will also be the end of over 20 years of service in overseeing athletic, fine arts, visual arts and a variety of other extra-curricular programs for ISD 2149. The job that he’s performed has been challenging and time consuming, but also extremely rewarding.
From the outside, it may seem to the casual observer that the job Mills has held simply revolves around the scheduling of junior and senior high school sports and activities. In reality it encompasses so much more. Managing activities in a modern day high school requires a balancing act to juggle not only scheduling games and transportation, but many other things such as recruiting new coaches, overseeing budgets, verifying academic eligibility, fundraising, mentoring coaches, marketing and working with the Minnesota State High School League. Like many jobs in public education today, Mills notes the position has become more complicated in recent years with increasing expectations and responsibilities. With that said, the main goal continues to be to provide these incredibly important experiences for participants in working to develop skills to set a positive course for their futures.
Bill was born and raised in Hutchinson, Minnesota, where he attended Hutchinson High School participating in football, basketball and golf. Both his parents were teachers whom he admired and ultimately followed into the profession. After graduation from HHS in 1982, he attended St. Cloud State University, graduating in 1987 with a degree in Social Studies Education with a minor in Athletic Coaching. A Master’s Degree from Southwest Minnesota State came in 1997 and an Administrative Certification in Community Education from SCSU was attained in 2007.
Villard High School was the first landing spot for Bill as he began his 35 year career in education. He remained there, teaching Social Studies while coaching boys’ basketball, until the school merged into what is now Minnewaska Area High School in the fall of 1991. He continued teaching social studies and coaching, but the surroundings had changed. Now, at the brand new Minnewaska Area High school, Bill took on the assistant coaching duties for boys’ basketball and fastpitch softball under legendary coaches Greg Starns and Steve Hoffmann as well as coaching junior high football.
In 1999, he got his first taste of working in activities while assisting Director of Community Education and Activities Dick Cordes at the junior high level. After Cordes’ retirement, Bill assumed both the roles of 7-12 Athletic Director and Director of Community Education for the district.
One of the biggest changes Mills has seen over his tenure is the tremendous advancement in technology which has provided major benefits for community education as well as activities. When he began as the AD he would have stacks of contracts with schools and officials that needed to be sent out and signed. Hundreds of contracts and registration forms would need to be drawn up by hand and were stacked up like cordwood along the back counter of the office. Over the past decade, with advances in technology, all work is now done on-line and much more quickly and efficiently than ever before. Emailing and texting has made communication faster and more efficient, as it has streamlined the job while bringing an end to voluminous amounts of paper consumed.
One of the things that Mills is most proud is in regards to activities participation which has been on the increase for many years now. Approximately 70% of Minnewaska students participate in at least one activity, and over 50% are in at least two. Under Bill’s guidance opportunities have increased after a time of elimination due to budget cuts. Over the past several years cross country for boys and girls as well as boys’ soccer have returned and both programs are again flourishing. The new additions of dance team in the winter and trap shooting in the spring have only increased participation numbers in offering more students opportunities to join an activity. Both these more recent additions have thrived competitively at the conference and state tournament levels and continue to see their numbers go up. Non-sporting activities under Bill’s purview are speech, Future Farmers of America, Knowledge Bowl and Business Professionals of America which have also been highly successful at the state and national level and are well received by the students participating. The theater and musical productions have always been popular, and the jazz band and jazz choir programs are second to none as they continue to receive yearly superior ratings. Mills stated, “We continue to look at adding programs which can benefit and attract more participants. Currently we are looking at adding a robotics program as soon as the 2022-23 school year.”
There have also been numerous facility upgrades that have occurred under Mills’ tenure. A combined effort by the district and private contributors changed the stadium field from a natural to a synthetic surface. Renamed Veterans Field at Glenwood Bank Stadium, it has been a huge upgrade benefitting the district as a whole allowing many athletes to play or practice on it throughout the year, along with all grades 4-12 physical education classes. The tennis courts were redone five years ago and are considered some of the best in the area and will host this spring’s MSHSL Section 8A tournament. The track area was also redone at that same time and has more recently hosted numerous MSHSL post-season events. Bill was also a big supporter of the new baseball facility as it was envisioned and renovated by the Minnewaska Baseball Association. Marthaler Field is now considered one of the finest baseball facilities in the region, having recently hosted the amateur regional tournament, and continues to host the MSHSL Section 6A baseball tournament each spring. The last project, as he wraps up his years at the post, is the renovation of the bleacher seating at MAHS and MAES, and the scoreboard upgrade which will soon be underway in the MAHS main gym.