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Russ Milligan Leaves a Lasting Local Legacy

Writer / Kevin Conrad

Photographer / Erin Kay

The Center Grove community suffered a great loss with the passing of Center Grove High School (CGHS) chemistry teacher and Hall of Fame softball coach Russ Milligan. Milligan passed away on February 10 due to complications from COVID-19. He taught for 31 years at CGHS and coached the Trojan softball program for 27 years.

Milligan built a powerhouse softball program at CGHS, winning five state titles during his tenure. Gabe Moran, a 1998 CGHS graduate and four-year softball player under Milligan, says he was intense, but also had a big heart for his players.

“He was very strict during practices,” Moran says. “He preached how you practice is how you will perform during a game. You would hear it if you did something wrong, but also were praised for good plays. You hustled on every play. He was rough on the edges, but really he was just a big teddy bear. If you gave it your all, then that’s all he could ask. After our victories, he would lighten up and make wisecracks at us. During my senior year, we danced to the ‘Macarena’ song after each victory. He would join in.”

During Moran’s senior year, she helped the Trojans win the 1998 state championship. The season was extra special for Moran because her dad, John Moran, was Milligan’s assistant coach. He coached for 14 seasons with Milligan until his death in October of 2011.

“They were both incredibly softball-smart,” Moran says. “Both would feel like getting sick before each game. They both would say sarcastic things to one another to make each other laugh. They both recognized each player’s strengths and optimized each player’s ability, which gained more confidence in each player. They were like two peas in a pod.”

Moran, now a sixth-grade teacher at Clark-Pleasant Middle School, says Milligan had a big influence on her during her playing days, but after she lost her dad, he became even more instrumental in her life.

“He became a mentor to me, and later a friend or a second dad,” Moran says. “Coach Milligan was the first person to show up at my mom’s house after what had happened to my dad, and he was there for me and my family. He would contact me and we would go to dinner or grab a drink, and reminisce about my dad. The first softball season after my dad passed, he asked me to help out with the team. It felt special and it made me feel closer to my dad. I coached for two seasons. I cherish our victory dinners after the games. He toasted to my dad each time. I later took the assistant varsity job in Whiteland for three seasons, where I mentored and used what I learned from Milligan and my dad to coach those girls. As a teacher I try to push my students to their best ability in the classroom.”

Retired chemist and Center Grove softball super-fan Jerry Koester is coming up on his twenty-seventh season of following and supporting Trojan softball. He spent 24 years as Coach Milligan’s number-one fan, attending all the home and away games. Koester says Milligan was a one-of-a-kind person.

“After the senior-night game each season, Russ would honor each senior by speaking from the heart about how much each senior meant to the program and to him,” Koester says. “I witnessed 24 senior nights and 100% of them brought Russ to tears. He couldn’t hide how much he truly loved these girls.”

Koester shares his thoughts on Milligan’s legacy.

“After Russ was inducted into the Indiana Softball Hall of Fame, he was honored at halftime of our first football game the following season,” Koester says. “When he and [Milligan’s youngest son] Alex walked up to me, I shook his hand and looked him in the eye and said, ‘Alex, I want you to know your dad’s legacy is more than his success as a coach. Many chemistry students have told me his classroom teaching changed their lives.’  Russ then said, ‘Jerry, I’ll never forget that because I never hear that.’ Of course, being a former chemist who was inspired by my high school chemistry teacher, I knew he’d appreciate hearing that.”

Moran says Milligan accepted everyone for who they were.

“He wanted the best for all of his players,” Moran says. “He will be deeply missed by all that he impacted.”

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