NOTE: This article went to press prior to the death of Gene Mills.
By John L. Braese
ADRIAN – For the opening night of a new gym with expanded seating, fans last Friday were still standing in the foyer because of no room.
Faces rarely seen at a high school basketball game munched on popcorn and hot dogs while waiting for the action to start.
A few grumbled the pop machine took their money without dispensing a soda.
Although the official ribbon cutting took place a day earlier, ceremony doesn’t replace a game in Adrian.
The Antelope girls took to the shiny new floor, popping up shots on new baskets and backboards before taking a seat on new Antelope chairs.
There was only one thing missing: Coach Gene Mills.
“I told the girls he should be here, not me,” said Coach Kevin Purnell. “This is his team, this should have been his night. It was fantastic he was able to be here for the ribbon cutting, but tonight should be his.”
Mills, a high school coach for 50 years, was not in the gym or with his team. Battling cancer, he was physically unable to be with the Lopes on the court named in his honor.
Playing an undermanned Burnt River team, Adrian won handily, 45-20. As Mills would have done and has done numerous times in the past, Purnell pulled his starters early against the Bulls after mounting an overwhelming lead early.
For the night, the Antelopes invited the Bulls to center court prior to the game for a picture to commemorate the gym’s first game.
For the record books, Shyanne Allaire picked up the first official basket in the gym. Grace Morton will be remembered as the first 3-point shot while Purnell will be credited with the first win as a coach.
For Purnell, it is a win that should be credited to Mills.
“Coach Mills is where all our thoughts were every minute tonight,” said Purnell.
The victory ends the regular season for the Lopes with a 12-7 overall and 7-3 High Desert League mark.
Adrian travels to John Day on Thursday to open the league tournament against Monument/Dayville (11-11 overall, 4-6 league). The Antelopes enter the tournament as the third seed.