As the horn sounded after the clock expired in the fourth quarter of the 2015 APAC (Asia Pacific Activities Conference) championship game in Shanghai, China; the SFS girls emptied the bench on to the court in total excitement, as did the loyal Seoul Foreign School faithful who also made the trip to cheer on their Crusaders (I was amongst them). Coach Jim Milliken, with an all too familiar smile, calmly gathered his ecstatic team (the newly crowned regional APAC champs) and ushered them into a line to shake the hands of their ISB (International School of Beijing) opponents. Naturally, Coach Jim was excited, but he has been in the winner’s circle before over his multiple decades of coaching sports at SFS. He made sure that his team was in order before getting lost in the moment of the win. Character and class, once again, was a priority.
“Coach Millken helped me develop skills and also passion for the sport of basketball. I would've never imagined myself loving the sport as much as I do now without his guidance and coaching. We were lucky to be his "daughters" on and off the court. He's always going to be a father figure in my heart.”
Ji Won Shin- SFS Class of 2015
He is known as Coach Jim, J-Mill, Mill or Daddy as called by many of his athletes over the years (“He's become almost a father figure; ‘the White father’.” –Sarah Ha- SFS Class of 2016). He has seen a great deal of victories and heartbreaks in APAC and also in their local KAIAC (Korean American Interscholastic Activities Conference) league while helping athletes through the years achieve multiple goals , creating lifelong lessons and memories. Jim has been on staff at SFS for 25 plus years. His name and lineage can be considered royalty as part of a legacy family at this historic school.
Jim grew up in Norfolk, Nebraska and would eventually attend Nebraska Christian College where his father was the college president. While there he would play basketball and study Youth Ministry. His love for Christ and people (youth specifically) would drive him to eventually working at an Omaha area church where he led a Bible group for “singles.” I guess leading a “singles” group is a great way to meet other singles in the area because while teaching the class, Jim met former Seoul Foreign School Alumni, June Byrd. June was a young local teacher in the area and as we like to say “the rest was history.” Literally, they got married and moved to Korea to work at SFS and Jim would get a teaching degree in history.
Fast forward 25 years and Jim and June are now the proud parents of Mattie, Michal and Mercy. Their three daughters were all born in Korea and two have already graduated from SFS and attend college in the USA. Mercy is now a freshman in high school and finally gets to play basketball for her father on the varsity team. While working at SFS for those years, Jim had other coaching stints with Tennis and even Volleyball. International school coaches are all aware that they need to be prepared for just about anything. After years as a teacher, Jim would eventually ascend to the position of school Athletic Director and is now currently KAIAC president where his wisdom and experience as a Korea veteran would be respected nationwide with other AD’s and coaches.
"Among the many in the long line who have served as the irrepressible 'King of KAIAC,' Jim Milliken has continued a tradition of excellence, generosity and friendship toward all who know him.”
Dave Ornauer- Writer and Columnist of the Pacific Stars and Stripes
I have had the opportunity to know Jim for many years. I have always enjoyed his company, encouragement and passion for people and sports. I miss the Monday night duals on the basketball court when he would stop on a dime and pull up for a three point shot in my face. And then nicely saying with a pleasant smile; “good game.” For many people on the outside, perhaps Jim is a mystery. His quiet demeanor can often make you wonder “What is really going on in there?” I have watched and learned a lot from Jim just by watching him on the sideline with his arms crossed and interacting with his athletes (and occasionally the referees). When asked about some of their most notable memories of Coach Jim, many of his athletes through the generations all said the same thing “Left side! Left hand!” Clearly, fundamentals are important.
Jim can also be known as a man of high character and faith. His long-time colleague, Jack Moon describes him this way; “He is one of the most genuine individuals I've ever met. He is a reflective, thoughtful person who leads from a quiet, inner strength.” Jack’s wife Edie goes even further by saying “Jim just might be Jesus in disguise.” Regardless if you believe he is an undercover Jesus or a lesser known incarnation of Phil Jackson, there is no doubt that he has left his print on the lives of his athletes in a positive way.
“Coach Mill will always hold a special place in my heart. He was very motivating as a coach to become the best players we could be, but more than that, he treated us like we were one of his own daughters. He loved us and we felt it. More than the basketball skills he taught me, it will always be the love he showed us all that I will remember the most.”
Brittany (Raider) Fields- SFS Class of 2009
“Over the course of three seasons, Coach Mill taught me invaluable lessons that will stick with me for a very long time. He was always encouraging us to be confident in ourselves and in our abilities, as well as making sure we knew that he always had our best interests in mind.”
Lucy Dornbach- SFS Class of 2015
As a young Nebraska man with aspirations to show young people the love of Christ and sports. Jim did just that while committing daily to the rigors and inconveniences of coaching in Korea. Nothing comes easy for coaches in Asia but he did it diligently. The international school world is a very transient one and finding anyone with longevity in the classroom or the sideline is the equivalent of discovering a rare gem buried in the heart of the earth. Jim and his wife June are just that. By being a father figure, he and his wife provided a stable family that many students perhaps never would have known or experienced otherwise. And many athletes and students are far better off because of it.
CTI wants to acknowledge Jim and June for their hard work and commitment they have made to their family, athletes and faith. Thank you for the lives you have changed and know that you will be sorely missed by the community of SFS and all around Korea as you prepare to take a new step of faith in a new direction. I pray that God guides you and your family to bigger and greater things. Where ever you go, I know that your commitment to faith, fundamentals and family will be evident.