Success in cross country depends as much on a team's first runner to cross the finish line as it does on its last.
That might explain why Dave Mills has put as much enthusiasm into his 34th - and last - season as Boise High's coach as he did into his first. There won't be anything different about the way Mills approaches Saturday's state meet in Idaho Falls.
He'll encourage his athletes as they navigate the 5k course at Freeman Park, and he'll be there as each one crosses the finish line.
"What he did better than any other coach was he cared deeply about every single one of his runners," Boise graduate Thomas Rigby said. "Whether you were first on varsity or last on J.V., he wanted everyone to run the best race they could on that day."
Mills' tenure at Boise began in 1980. Now eight years into his retirement as an elementary P.E. teacher, Mills has decided it's time to begin another chapter in his career.
New Boise State track and field coach Corey Ihmels has taken Mills on as a volunteer coach, giving him more free time but still keeping him involved in the sport he loves.
"I'm very excited about that, to be here in my home and help the Broncos. It will be pretty cool," Mills said.
Mills leaves a strong tradition for the Braves' next coach. Since his first season at Boise, the boys and girls teams have qualified for state every year but one. With Mills' guidance, the Braves have won 10 team championships - eight for the girls and two for the boys.
He has coached 10 individual state champions, and helped countless more find self esteem and confidence through the sport.
"The thing about coach Mills is that he didn't just coach his runners to be successful in running. He coached them to be successful in life," Rigby said. "Whether that was having a good attitude even after a poor performance or holding his runners accountable for their shenanigans, Coach Mills was there every step of the way, molding us into better people."
Mills was instrumental in helping cross country become more relevant in Idaho, from establishing the annual Bob Firman Invitational as one of the Northwest's elite meets to pushing for the girls' race distance to move from 3 kilometers to 5.
"Dave has been one of the leaders in the sport of cross country," Borah coach Tim Severa said. "He has always been one of those guys that wants to do the best for the sport itself and the kids."
Mills was recently accepted into the International Athletics Federation's Academy for Endurance, which will be held in December at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. After he completes the academy, he will have an IAF Level 5 certification, which is the highest a coach can have and is recognized worldwide.
"It's kind of the next adventure. I've really enjoyed my time at Boise High," Mills said. "But it was just time to go elsewhere and go on."
Rachel Roberts: 377-6422, Twitter: @IDS_VarsityX