Stopping By: A Sporting Life

April 7, 2015

By Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996.


Marianne Mills '72

Marcus Larson/News-Register Now retired from both education and Habitat for Humanity, Marianne Mills has more time for her hobbies, such as cycling. She also attends sporting events, including her granddaughters games.

Marianne Mills will be inducted into the Oregon Athletic Directors Hall of Fame

Sports have always been a big part of Marianne Mills life. As a teen, she shot hoops with her siblings on the family’s basketball court.

After earning an education degree at Linfield College, she taught P.E. and coached at Amity High School. Later, she moved to McMinnville High School as a coach and counselor.

In the early 1990s, she became one of the first female athletic directors at a large coed high school. She spent nine years in the job.

Now retired from both education and a second career with Habitat for Humanity, she remains a sports fan. She attends Oregon State University women’s basketball games with her mother, and cheers for her granddaughters on the soccer, T-ball and softball fields.

Her family and others will be cheering for her Saturday, April 18, when Mills is admitted to the Oregon Athletic Directors Hall of Fame.

Mills’ late father undoubtedly would be proud of his daughter’s honor. But when she first announced she planned to become a P.E. teacher, he wasn’t all that pleased.

“Leave it to my daughter to pick something that lets her play all day,” he growled.

She could have picked a more “sensible” job in business. After all, she’d grown up in Waldport watching her parents run a hardware store and, later, other businesses.

Her folks weren’t athletic, but they did acknowledge that Mills and her three younger siblings enjoyed sports. Her dad built the home basketball court for them to practice on.

Inspired by her love of sports and the support she received from her high school P.E. teacher, Florence Boydston, Mills entered Linfield as a P.E. and education major. “I though teaching P.E. would be fun,” she said, adding that students learn important lessons about health and movement in P.E. classes.

Being practical, she also went on to earn her credentials in school counseling at Portland State University.

After graduating from Linfield, she was hired at Amity High when she was 21. Since it was a small school, she taught a variety of classes — P.E., of course, but also math, U.S. history, English and journalism, as needed. Later, she was a counselor, as well.

She coached volleyball and track, advised the dance team and started a girls’ basketball program, as well. During those first years, her players had no official uniforms; they wore shorts and T-shirts with numbers formed from masking tape.

The girls were very dedicated, Mills said. In addition to wearing the makeshift uniforms, they had to arrive at 6 a.m. for practice. The gym was reserved for the boys’ basketball team after school.

She is pleased that these days, girls’ sports receive almost as much respect as boys’ sports.

“It’s been interesting to watch the progression,” she said. “We’ve come a long ways. But we still have room to improve.

“Until schools put the money (into women’s sports) they do into men’s sports, it won’t be equal,” she said, adding quickly that she doesn’t want to see men’s programs gutted to equalize things.

After 14 years in Amity, Mills transferred to McMinnville High School as a counselor and tennis coach.

About the same time, the Oregon Women’s Sports Leadership Network began a program to encourage women coaches to seek positions as school administrators or athletic directors.

Mac High assistant principals Carol Whitehead and Mike Hyder urged her to participate in the OWSLN’s leadership courses. And Val Just, the district’s personnel director, encouraged her to make sure she earned her administrative credentials, as well; Mills did so through PSU.

Mac High’s longtime athletic director, Perry Stubberfield, was getting close to retirement. So Mills talked to him about the possibility of becoming his successor.

After she was hired as AD, she and Stubberfield shared the position for a year before he fully retired. Mills found working with him invaluable.

“Perry was a great mentor,” she said. “He’d been around so long. He had so many connections, here and in the leagues.”

Making those connections was critical for the new AD. “Especially as a female,” something many of the more traditional administrators weren’t used to yet, she said.

She also received tips and support from another longtime Yamhill County AD, Lizann Schultz at Dayton, and from women at other large schools, such as Cindy Simmons at Aloha High, Barb Proctor at Tigard and Anna Maria Lopez at St. Mary’s, a girls’ school.

“We all faced some challenges,” Mills said. “I was really fortunate: I never really experienced anyone saying it was a problem that I was a woman.”

In fact, she said with a laugh, her gender may have made a few things easier. Angry coaches may have been a little more polite to her than they would have been to a man.

The women ADs had to prove themselves, she said. They had to show they could listen to coaches, athletes and parents; be fair to everyone; and understand every sport, from football, soccer, volleyball, basketball to track, tennis, cross country, golf, swimming, soccer and wrestling.

“I knew a lot, although I still had a lot to learn,” said Mills, who went on to serve as president and a board member of the state AD Association before retirement.

She noted that she went into the AD job more familiar with sports she had played and coached, and less familiar with some. “I was genuinely interested,” so learned quickly, she said.

All high school sports are important, she said, because they offer students a chance to get involved, make friends, practice teamwork and sportsmanship, and learn specific skills. “They’re something in which kids can see improvement,” she said.

High school athletics can bring the community together, she said, and they can give individual students a reason for staying in school. They’re part of the larger high school experience which also includes the arts and social activities as well as academics.

“Part of my job was to get people to understand the big picture,” said Mills, who also spent her time scheduling, checking eligibility of athletes, budgeting, promoting sportsmanship and attending events.

One of the things Stubberfield advised Mills to do was to network while she herself was engaged in a sport — fishing, maybe, or golf.

She tried the latter during her years as an AD. After retiring in 2002, she continued to play a little, although she said she never progressed past the level of being “very much a weekend amateur.”

Still, she golfs occasionally with her siblings, who are more dedicated to the sport.

Mills remains a supporter of Habitat for Humanity, for which she served as executive director for three years until her second retirement in 2010.

She started at Habitat as volunteer coordinator. She became director after Erin Stephenson left the position, and the job filled a gap in her life.

“After I retired (from school), it just didn’t seem right to be sitting in my living room at 10 in the morning reading a book,” she recalled.

She said she was proud of the work Habitat did during her tenure. She was especially proud of the staff, board and volunteers, and how they worked together to help people with their housing needs.

“We had a great working relationship,” she said. “I think one of my strengths is building relationships with a lot of different people from different walks of life.”

She was drawn to Habitat’s mission, she said, because of her previous work with young people. “I feel strongly that kids have a better chance of being successful adults if they have a ‘home’ to go to, both a physical structure and family,” she said.

Mills decided to retire from Habitat to spend more time with her mother, Lois Christensen Mills, who had returned to her native McMinnville. Daughter and mother do a lot together, including attending those OSU basketball games.

She also spends time with her sons, Jeff Hendricks and Gregg Hendricks, and her four granddaughters, ages 2 to 7. They oldest are already involved with sports, so Grandma spends a lot of time at T-ball, soccer and other games.

In addition to family activities, Mills devotes time to the McMinnville Library Foundation. A believer in libraries, she purchased a patio brick in their fundraiser. Unable to choose just one favorite book, she asked for it to list two of her cherished authors, Mya Angelou and May Sarton.

Mills is active with the McMinnville City Club, as well. She has worked at Excell Fitness, helped the Yamhill County Clerk’s Office with elections, supervised Linfield education students doing their practice teaching and served on the college’s Alumni Council.

And she’s on Mac High’s Hall of Fame selection committee. That means getting together with Stubberfield, Ross Peterson and other former sports colleagues — always a delight, she said.

“They’re such great storytellers. It’s fascinating to listen to them,” she said.

Mills also enjoys running into former students and athletes she coached or worked with as an AD. For instance, Jamie Lewis, owner of Blue Raeven Farmstand, was the setter on her first volleyball team. Becky Fairbanks, with whom she later worked at Habitat, was on her tennis team.

Some of her earliest students now have children and grandkids of their own, she said.

“That’s the really great thing about staying in an area,” she said. “You get to see how your students turned out.”

Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or