Adrian’s Gene Mills remembered for his care of kids – and his handshake

By John L. Braese

In today’s world, a handshake is a form of greeting when meeting someone for the first time or seeing an old friend. In long gone days, a handshake was a bond, a contract without all the paperwork and lawyers.

In 2004, I first took a handshake from Gene Mills.

Being new to journalism, I was sent to cover a basketball game in Adrian. I introduced myself, stuck out my hand and immediately felt the pain. Gene crushed the handshake, leaving my hand throbbing well into the second quarter. I sat in the stands not taking notes, trying to remember the plays by memory.

As the years and games went by, it was always the same. Gene shook a hand like no other.

He became a friend as well as a coach I saw after the game. We would meet in summer league, talk about the team, but also talk about what was going on in life.

When Adrian was floating a bond for the new gym, Gene and I talked frequently. We would joke about the old gym and how much the new gym was needed. When the bond passed, he was humble, but acted the proud father of something good.

Gene and I ran into each other last summer during league. He looked good, said he was feeling fine and asked about my son. The conversation started off with a hard handshake.

This basketball season, I was back in Adrian. When the game ended, I went to the bench to interview Gene. He told me he had to sit down and stuck out his hand. I grabbed it and realized just how sick he was.

The grip, the crush, was gone.

That would be the last time Gene and I were to shake hands. He died at his home last Wednesday.

For 50 years, Gene coached basketball. But, for more than 50 years, Gene led kids into adulthood both on and off the court. State titles and wins mean little when considering the impact he had on so many lives.

To Gene’s family, many who I know personally, my condolences. Many times over the years, I was honored to meet his wife Joanne.  To his son Aaron, another friend and coach, your father would be proud of you both as a coach and father. And to Brody, Gene’s grandson, I hope your handshake someday is a firm and true as was you grandfather’s.

I will miss seeing Gene, both as a coach and friend at Adrian.