Milligans make Jasper athletics a family affair

Photos by Jacob Wiegand/The Herald
Jasper volleyball coach Liz Milligan, center, says she is often less stressed leading her team, which competes tonight in a sectional quarterfinal, than she is watching her sons, Reece and Raife, play in Wildcat football games such as Friday’s against Mount Vernon.


Between nightly football film sessions with their father, Joe,  ahead of Jasper’s next football game and helping their mother, Liz,  prepare for her Wildcat volleyball team’s upcoming match, October gets a little hectic in the Milligan household.

But for Reece and Raife Milligan, the chaotic lifestyle has become as second-nature as their daily lifting sessions and nightly practices as junior football athletes.

“I think everyone in our family is preparing for their respective postseason games right now, so we kind of just keep our space and sort of go our own ways,” Reece said. “There’s not too much talking to one another during this point in the season.”

Both Reece and Raife are tri-sport athletes, with the pair currently readying for Friday’s Big Eight Conference home game between Jasper (6-2, 4-1) and Mount Vernon (1-7, 0-5).

Reece participates in football, basketball and track, while Raife swaps swimming for hoops in the winter. Their older sister, Ryanne, played Division I volleyball at Marshall and Florida International. Reid, their older brother who is currently a student at Purdue, was a three-time state qualifier and record-holder at Jasper in the 300-meter hurdles.

“You can definitely say we’re a sports-minded family,” said Liz, Jasper’s volleyball coach. “Sports seems to be the topic of conversation whenever we’re all sitting together, whether it’s talking about how practice went or what game is up next. It’s pretty much all we talk about.”

Joe, who played high school football at Jasper and also worked with Southridge’s football team, will go over film on Hudl and break down game notes with Reece and Raife on a nightly basis at any time and any place — emphasis on the any place.

“Our dad will always watch the game film and tell us what we did right or wrong at anytime, (and) the dinner table is no exception to that,” Reece said with a laugh.

“If we actually have time to sit down at the dinner table,” Raife is quick to chime in.

Reece Milligan, far right, took the ball toward the goal line during Jasper’s 28-0 win against Boonville on Sept. 2. Milligan leads the Wildcats with 364 recieving yards and has also added three total touchdowns on the season — two recieving and one rushing.

Reece refers to his father as a second football coach when he and his brother are away from the practice field with Wildcat leader Tony Ahrens.

In fact, Reece thinks his father may spend even a little more time studying for upcoming opponents than he does.

“I’m not saying we’re not prepared, I just think that he’s more prepared than us most times,” Reece said. “Honestly, I just think he misses coaching football and that’s why he likes to help us out so much.”

Liz, meanwhile, sticks to supporting the boys from the stands, decked out in Jasper black and gold. She said she prefers to leave talk of 3-4 defense or the wildcat formation to her husband.

“(Joe) knows so much about football and the ins-and-outs and how to get the boys ahead,” Liz said. “That’s his department.”

October can be a trying month for a high school coach, knowing their time with a team could end at any moment — especially facing different opponents in a new sectional within a higher class level. That’s a task the Wildcats (23-10) face in the Class 4A Evansville Harrison Sectional, beginning today in a quarterfinal against the host school.

But even with those tasks facing her as a coach, there’s still nothing that taxes Liz more than watching her boys play under the Friday night lights.

“As both a coach and a parent, I just know that it can be stressful watching the boys play because you want them to be so successful,” Liz said. “I know what can go through a parent’s mind and how they want their child to be the best they can be. So even though I take (both coaching and parenting) very serious and to heart, watching Reece and Raife is a little more stressful.”

For Reece and Raife, watching their mom’s volleyball matches is usually a more relaxed affair — unless it goes to a decisive fifth set.

“Our mom seems pretty good, so we don’t worry about it too much. But when it gets to a Game 5, that’s when I get worried,” Reece said. “I know if she loses, it’s not going to be pretty at home. She can be a sore loser at times.”

“A couple of years ago, our mom lost against Northeast Dubois, and as soon as we heard her car pull into the driveway we all just ran into our rooms because we didn’t want to deal with it,” Raife said jokingly.

To help potentially prevent some dismal nights at home, Reece has tried his hand at scouting opposing volleyball teams.

While he admittedly doesn’t know too much about the sport, he says he’s learned some key lessons from the other sports he’s participated that he can apply to studying Jasper volleyball’s future opponents. Though some are not the most traditional routes to plan for upcoming matches.

“There’s always a weak link, and you have to work to find out who it is,” Reece said. “Also, I know there’s a girl that plays for Castle who had a pretty athletic older brother, so I can kind of tell by people’s last names if they’re going to be good or not.”

At the end of the day, whether it’s studying with their mom for future volleyball battles or practicing for their Oct. 20 sectional battle against Northview, Reece and Raife’s lives will be dominated by sports.

For Reece? He wouldn’t want it any other way.

“I remember freshman year, I had just gotten done with our football season and literally the day after I had to go straight to basketball practice, and then once that finished I had to go meet up with the track team,” Reece said.

“It was then I realized, ‘OK, this is for real.’ But I’ve realized that if I didn’t have sports, I wouldn’t be who I am today because I love every second of it, no matter how busy I am.” 

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