TROY MILLS — Every athlete’s dad is their coach.
Whether it’s in high school sports or just while sitting on the couch with their son, every dad coaches their kid.
Some more than others. None more than mine.
I’ve always played for my dad (Mike Hilmer). Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a ball in my hands and my dad as my coach.
Our journey as player-coach/father-son has been many things — good and bad, but mostly good. There’s never a dull moment with us. If you’re around us enough, you know we are always talking. Sometimes we agreei, other times not.
There’s one thing we’ll never disagree on, however. I wouldn’t want to play for anyone other than him and he wouldn’t want to coach any other player than me. It hasn’t been easy all the time. He pushes me hard and it’s confusing at times. But no matter what happens on the court on any given night, I know when I leave the gym he’s going to make me feel like a champion. It doesn’t matter if I was or wasn’t, he’s going to convince me I was.
Our player-coach relationship takes pauses at times, but our father-son doesn’t. I have a coach when I want one. I have a father always.
We’ve also always shared the same dream — state basketball.
My dream always has been to be on the team that takes him to Des Moines. When you live with the guy, you know how hard he works. You see him up late at night after a loss. You see him watching film constantly. You see him living and breathing the game at times. You know how much he deserves it.
This past season, not one but two dreams came true when North Linn beat Clayton Ridge to qualify for the Iowa High School State Basketball Tournament. The dream continued as the Lynx won their quarterfinal matchup and advanced to the semifinals.
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Every year my dad and I skip a couple days of school and drive to Des Moines. We park our car, walk into Wells Fargo Arena, buy a ticket and watch the Class 1A semifinals together. Not this year. This year, we were in the locker room early in the morning thinking about how we were going to leave with a win.
Leading the game heading into the fourth quarter, it seemed the dream wasn’t going to end. As a lead slipped away, and time ran out, it was fair to say it wasn’t the ending anyone on our team wanted. I walked back the locker with my head to the ground, eyes full of tears and a heart in a hundred pieces. It was sad to see such a fun run come to end.
The next day, we watched the 1A state championship together as we do every year. And when I left the arena Friday night, though I wasn’t celebrating a state title or carrying a first place trophy, I walked out side-by-side with my dad, feeling like a champion.