When Bobby Mills Jr. retired at the age of 57, he vowed to spend the rest of his life giving back to high school sports.
And that he’s done.
The Grand Island man spends a lot of time giving recognition to high school athletes.
“It’s the purest form of sports there is,” he said. “They’d better not be betting on it, God forbid.”
Many successful athletes, he noted, look back upon their high school careers as the best time of their lives.
Mills regularly writes blog entries about Nebraska high school athletes. In addition to video interviews, he keeps track of high school records and accomplishments.
When they see him in public, some people greet him as “1,000-Yard Guy.” That’s a reference to his comprehensive list of every Nebraska high school football player who’s gained 1,000 yards or more.
Mills’ favorite time of the year is the fall. He tries to attend 30 high school football games each season.
He likes to see two good teams play. But two 0-5 squads still can have a competitive game. “It just isn’t as polished,” he said.
At high school football games, you’ll find Mills on the sidelines. He eschews bleachers and press boxes.
Mills, 71, is known throughout the state. On April 18 at Lincoln Southeast High School, he will be inducted into the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame. He’s already a member of the Grand Island Central Catholic Alumni Hall of Fame and the Nebraska Eight-Man Football Hall of Fame.
Except for a year or so living in Minneapolis, Mills has lived in Grand Island since 1958, when he moved with his family from Columbus.
Many people remember his father, who was a big band leader. The Cedar Rapids native, born Bobby Micek, was better known as Bobby Mills.
The senior Mills is the one who got Bobby interested in high school football. The band leader took his son to “all kinds of high school football games when I was a kid,” Bobby said.
When Mills’ group served as the house band at Peony Park in Omaha, he and his son would go to Omaha a night early. They’d see players like Gale Sayers of Omaha Central.
Mills maintains a busy schedule.
He stays up well past midnight writing his blog entries, which can be found at https://theindependent.com/users/profile/1000%20yard%20guy.
A performer himself, he gives drum lessons online to about 10 students, and practices on the drums seven days a week. He spends a lot of quality time with his 5-year-old granddaughter, Ariana. He also goes for a daily walk, and is the public address announcer for GICC boys and girls basketball games.
His wife, Carla, is a bigger basketball fan than he his. But Mills still keeps close track of high school hoops.
In a preview of the girls state basketball tournament last week, Mills wrote, “Perhaps the most intimidating player in Class C-2 is Bridgeport 6-2 sophomore sensation Ruthie Loomis-Goltl, who has rejected an incredible 112 shots this season.”
The elder Mills, a sax virtuoso, was the founder and leader of the Bobby Mills Orchestra. He didn’t mind playing Polish tunes, but he preferred big band music.
He started his band in Columbus in 1947. One poster referred to the group as “The Sweetest Band in Musicland.”
After moving to Grand Island, Bobby Mills Sr. managed the Palmer House hotel.
The younger Mills joined his father’s band when he was 14. He also helped out at the Bobby Mills Music Store.
Bobby Mills Sr. passed away in 1987 at the age of 65, leaving behind his wife, Dorothy.
In 1967, young Bobby graduated from Central Catholic, where he was a three-year starter at running back. In track, he was a sprinter.
In high school, Mills stood 5-foot-8. Back surgery has reduced him to 5-4.
For close to 20 years, he was a groundskeeper for Grand Island Public Schools. That job required him to line many playing fields. He liked being outdoors, but the work, which also included heavy lifting, was hard on his body. The “machine and I should be buried together,” he said, referring to the device he used to line the fields.
Mills started writing about high school sports in 1975, which makes this his 47th year. His writing is distributed by The Independent and the McCook Gazette.
Mills admires running backs, but he also likes to have his photo taken with offensive linemen because backs “don’t go anywhere without the hogs.”
Every year, he compiles a list of all-state football and basketball players in all classes.
Mills started his public address work at Northwest High School before moving to GICC.
His working career included four or five years as classified ad manager at The Independent.
He and his wife, the former Carla Baker of Fullerton, have been married 48 years. They have two children, Erin and Rob.
Erin is married to GICC boys basketball coach Tino Martinez. Rob teaches fifth grade at Howard Elementary School and is an assistant GICC basketball coach.
During summers as a high school student, Mills practiced the drums eight hours a day.
He keeps in mind lessons he learned from his father.
His dad told him to never start anything unless you wanted to be the best at it. In working with high school drummers, he tries to motivate students to be the best they can be.