Megan Mills

MEGAN MILLS

Megan (Woodall) Mills probably isn’t going to read this story. If she does, it will be rather reluctantly, likely with one eye closed.

For her, the thought of reading about her athletic accomplishments from two decades ago is cringeworthy.

Truth is, the only thing she might like less than reading about herself is talking about herself, so getting interviewed about her upcoming induction into the Indiana County Sports Hall of Fame makes Mills squirm in her seat.

“I have high anxiety when it comes to talking about myself,” she said. “All that stuff was so long ago, like it happened to somebody else. I’m a completely different person than I was back then. I’m a wife and a mother and I have such a different life now.”

Megan Woodall — the daughter of Dave and Donna who grew up in Brookwood Estates and was a star athlete at Indiana High School and later IUP — is now Megan Mills, the wife of Jon, mother of Benjamin and Emma, and a suburban housewife in Kent, Ohio. She’s 43, and her playing days ended half a lifetime ago.

Mills will be enshrined on Aug. 15 for a roughly 10-year period in the late 1990s and early 2000s when she was a standout high school and college basketball player and one of the area’s fastest sprinters.

“She has accomplished a lot,” said her father, Dave Woodall. “But she doesn’t really ever talk about it.”

Mills is humbled by the honor, but it makes her a little uncomfortable. She spent her playing days trying to avoid singular attention, hoping it would instead find her team, so telling her story seems unsettling.

She’d rather let her story tell itself. She wrote it, after all, and she knows it so well that telling it again just seems like bragging, and anyone who knew Megan Woodall then — or knows Megan Mills now — knows that bragging is one thing she doesn’t do.

“She was a team player and a role model for her teammates,” said former IUP women’s basketball coach Sandy Thomas. “She was one of the most competitive players I coached in my career, but she always wanted the team to do well first. She didn’t care about her stats. She just wanted the team to win.”

IF MILLS wanted to brag, she’d have plenty to talk about.

At Indiana High School in the 1990s, she was the star of the basketball team, scoring more than 1,500 points while college coaches went from being aware of her, to following her, to hounding her. She helped the Indians become a state-playoff-caliber team, was chosen for the All-Gazette team an astonishing four times, with the last two coming with Player of the Year honors.

In the spring, she was a sprinter on the IHS track and field team, and when she graduated she owned school records in the 200 and 400.

“I just loved sports so much,” she said. “It was my escape from everything. I don’t like attention or the spotlight. I was known for sports, and I kind of lost my identity a little bit when people sort of knew who I was. But for me, it wasn’t about that. I just had fun playing. I made so many friends that I’m still close to today.”

Although Mills was adept at shaking defenders on the hardwood and running away from the competition on the track, she could never really escape the spotlight.

On the first day of the recruiting cycle, when the NCAA allowed coaches to make personal calls to players, Mills’ phone rang all day. Later that night, some of Mills’ friends came to pick her up to go to the movies, and as they were headed out the door the phone rang again.

“I said, ‘Go, go, go,’ and pushed them out the door,” she said. “I was just so tired of it. It was a lot to deal with.”

MILLS EVENTUALLY signed with Kent State, a Division I school in Ohio. It didn’t take long for her to regret it.

From the first practice, she felt out of place. She knew she was good enough to play there, but she just couldn’t shake the feeling that she didn’t fit in. She toughed it out for her freshman season and came off the bench to play in 22 games, but she was miserable.

“I’m not sure I really knew she wasn’t happy there,” said Dave Woodall. “She kept it to herself. But once we learned it, it was tough. We were 2½ hours away and we couldn’t do much to help her.”

Although Mills had begun dating a fellow student named Jon, a member of the Kent State golf team, after one year she headed home and gave up her basketball career. Mills decided to enroll at IUP, but not as a student-athlete.

“I felt deflated leaving Kent State,” she said. “I was down on myself. I thought, when this is your identity and then you don’t do it anymore, who are you? What do I do now?”

Mills said she talked to a lot of people about whether she should play basketball again. The experience at Kent State stole her love of the game, and she didn’t know if she could get it back. But Thomas heard that the former local star was back in town and made a pitch to Mills.

“I’d have been crazy not to,” Thomas said. “When we talked, she understood what we were trying to do there, and she wanted to be a part of it.”

MILLS’ ARRIVAL at IUP coincided with a stretch of success the program had never seen before. In 1998-99, the Indians went 26-6 and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Division II tournament for the first time. The following season, IUP went 24-5, but lost in the first round of the tournament.

Although Mills’ senior season did not go like the previous two — IUP finished a pedestrian 15-11 in 2000-01 — she gave her team a highlight that permanently put her name in the record book. On Jan. 7, 2001, in an 82-52 trouncing of East Stroudsburg at Memorial Field House, she scored 16 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and handed out 10 assists — the first triple-double in IUP women’s basketball history.

“I can’t say enough about her,” Thomas said in a postgame interview. “Her work ethic and her heart are unbelievable.”

Mills finished her IUP career with 885 points and the Indians won 75 percent of their games and advanced to the NCAA tournament twice. All these years later, Mills says coming home to IUP and joining the basketball team was one of the best decisions of her life.

“It felt like a family,” she said. “If I had not joined the team, I never would have gotten that, and I would have had a bad taste in my mouth about basketball.”

DURING HER time at IUP, Mills maintained her relationship with Jon, who became a star on the Kent State golf team. He would follow her career in the winter and spring, and she would follow his in the summer and fall. Eventually, he turned pro, moved to Indiana, and they got married.

A few years ago, Jon learned there was an opening for an assistant golf coach back at Kent State, and the Mills family relocated to the place where Megan and Jon first met. In 2019, Jon was elevated to head coach.

These days, Megan Mills’ only competition comes when she and Jon play H-O-R-S-E in the driveway, and those games can get a little heated — “He has these trick shots that I hate,” she said — but otherwise, she is content to follow Benjamin and Emma’s budding soccer and basketball careers and to support Jon and his team.

In a way, she has found the life she sought when she was younger. Her family now is her husband and children rather than her teammates, and she still gets to enjoy competition now and then, but she’s no longer chased by the spotlight.

Although she doesn’t really want to talk or read about herself, she is very much aware that she wouldn’t be where she is today if it weren’t for the life she led 20 years ago.

“I’m a true believer that everything happens for a reason,” she said. “I was not happy at Kent State, but you know, I met my husband there. I’m happy with where I’m at. Everything’s come full circle for me.”