Shelley McMillian soft, but inspirational on verge of landmark 700th win

By ROY LANG III, Journal Sports

When Parkway junior Cameron Dunn got tangled up with Calvary’s goalkeeper on Dec. 16, an unforgettable shriek pierced the silence and rattled Panthers head coach Shelley McMillian.

McMillian has seen it all on the pitch. She’s had a laundry list of star athletes go down, but as Dunn writhed on the turf after a compound tibia-fibula fracture, she was impacted unlike any other moment in 30 years of coaching.

Just a week before, McMillian told her bench nothing negative makes her cry in front of people. Perhaps the winningest soccer coach in Louisiana history underestimated just what her girls mean – especially this time around.

When her Panthers host North Caddo on Tuesday, McMillian faces an unthinkable opportunity – a chance to be the first prep coach in state history to reach 700 victories.

However, so much has changed since the former Airline and Centenary star collected No. 600. She has a wife, Cristina, an 8-year-old son, Joey, and, consequently, a dazzling new perspective.

“I’m softer,” McMillian, who “retired” in 2015 with 647 victories, told The Journal. “I’m more emotional. I haven’t lost my competitiveness, but 20 years ago, my first thought may have been, ‘Oh my gosh, I just lost a kid who scored 20 goals.’ Instead, my concern was first and foremost for my kid and her parents, the Calvary goalie and for my players that were also put through that trauma.”

In a frightening moment, the teenager found peace thanks to her coach.

“I kept saying, ‘I’m sorry,’” Dunn said. “They were trying to give me my IV on the field. For some reason I was really scared of the needle while my leg was broken. Coach looks at me and she says, ‘Look at your family behind you.’ I looked at all my teammates sitting right around me. I just looked at them and coach right there and I just started bawling. I felt so loved.”

The moment plays to the mantra of McMillian 2.0 – coaching for “significance, not success.”

The Panthers desperately needed a leader midway through the 2018-19 season, and McMillian came out of retirement to save the day (she founded Parkway soccer in 1990). McMillian didn’t think she’d still be at it three years later, and she certainly couldn’t have predicted the abundance of emotion.

“I think of the lives over the years — the weddings and the baby showers (of former players) of kids I’ve coached,” said McMillian, who scored the first goal in Centenary women’s soccer history (1992). “Now I coach the kids of kids I coached. I say all the time when I speak, ‘If you want to leave a great legacy, you have to live a great life’. I love looking at all the great lives of the kids I’ve coached. This has been a dream.”

As a player, McMillian had just three coaches during her entire career – Tony Papaneri, Milt Magaw, Glenn Evans.

“Those three men are so much of who I am today. I learned, ‘This may only be a game, but for some of these kids this is their lifeline.’ It was a lifeline for me. You don’t have to take the game so serious, but you have to take the influence you have and the fact this is a lifeline seriously.”

So, what comes after No. 700?

“This latest coaching stint has taken me down memory lane for the last 30 years,” said McMillian who coached boys and girls teams at Loyola and Calvary. “It’s also been really cool to share with Joey. He remembers everything and watches everything.

“At my core, I’m a coach. Before I wanted to win, now I want to inspire — but I don’t want to be one of those coaches that stays longer than I was good enough to do. Would I love to get this year’s juniors through next year? Of course, but there’s always going to be the next group of kids who you fall in love with.”

McMillian joked she would love to be a “Hall of Famer” someday. “Heck, maybe it’s my family’s Hall of Fame,” she said.

It’s hard to imagine anything other than a first-ballot entry for this area legend.