by Tom Pedulla –
Most coaches strive to create a family atmosphere. Stephanie Mills takes that to another level as she balances motherhood with her role as girls’ basketball coach at Dobbs Ferry.
She involves her three children – Danielle, 7; Matthew, 6; and Madison, 3 – in team activities as much as possible. Her father, Stephen, and her brother, Michael, attend as many practices and games as they can and often draw on their athletic experiences to provide input. Her husband, Michael, makes dinner once his workday on behalf of the Carpenters Union is complete.
“When teams talk about families, it’s just within the players,” noted junior center Julia Schwabe. “But our team is like a family. We have little kids who come to practice and we love them and they love us like we’re siblings. It’s really unique.”
Even with the great cooperation she receives, Mills, in her second full season, describes her schedule as “crazy.” Once practices for the season begin, it can be challenging to find help to pick up the children when they arrive at their Blauvelt, New York, home from school.
“It’s actually more anxiety before the season than once I get into the season,” she said. “Once I have my schedule and I know what’s going on every week, I’m much more settled.” Her mother, Joyce Cleary, her mother-in-law, Mary Mills, and a babysitter share after-school duties, depending on the day of the week.
Still, the balancing act tugs at Mills.
“Sometimes I have mom guilt because I’m here instead of getting my kids off the bus,” she said. “The reason I stick with it is because my kids love it. They love my being a coach. They love being around the girls. They think of the girls as their big sisters.”
The basketball part seems to come almost as easily as offense once did to Mills. She enjoyed a five-year varsity career as a guard at Tappan Zee and finished as Rockland County’s all-time leading scorer with 2,155 points. Mills went on to Ithaca College and closed as its all-time leader with 1,866 points. She received All-America honors as a senior.
Mills teaches math and science in the special education program at Dobbs Ferry. She said she was never intent on coaching once her playing days were over. She was more focused on building a family life with Michael, her high school sweetheart, and her teaching career.
She was asked to become Dobbs Ferry’s head coach following the in-season resignation of her predecessor two years ago. She and her family soon formed a strong bond with her players. A group of them attended a party for Danielle’s seventh birthday. Players frequently ask Mills if they may use their phones to have FaceTime with her children.
“If the girls weren’t the greatest bunch of girls and there was drama and nonsense and parental issues, I would just step out,” Mills said. “The girls are the reason I stay.”
Players look to Mills for more than well-run practices and smart in-game decisions. “I consider her like my second mom,” said Kayla Halvorsen, a junior guard. “I would go to her for anything.”
Dobbs Ferry finished 17-6 last year. The Eagles suffered a narrow loss to Briarcliff in the playoffs at the County Center last year that led to some locker room tears. It only got worse when players left the locker room.
“I was obviously upset we lost, but it really didn’t hit me until I saw her kids upset,” said Schwabe. “That really just shows how close we all are.”