KAYSVILLE — The Fairfield Junior High girls basketball team dressed in their best on Tuesday, just as they would on any other game day.
But the girls never intended to play the scheduled game. Instead, they dressed up in an effort to honor their beloved assistant basketball coach, David Milius, who passed away Monday afternoon after suffering a heart attack during their season-opener at Sunset Junior High.
"They all dressed up out of respect for him," said Fairfield's head coach Ron Osborn, who hired the 65-year-old Milius at the end of the 2012 season last winter. "We hadn't planned on doing anything (Tuesday), but the girls came together and spent two hours tonight signing balls, signing cards and just talking. The time allowed them to loosen up, to process this and to laugh."
Osborn said Milius, who had 25 years of coaching experience, volunteered to help him after he lost an assistant at the end of last year's undefeated season. Milius, who coached and taught in California until he retired five years ago, moved to Utah to be closer to his family. Osborn knew Milius before he started coaching with him because Milius had a ninth-grade granddaughter, Hailey Bassett, on the team. Milius also worked part-time at Northridge High School as a special education teacher.
"In junior high you get really close, like family," he said.
And Fairfield takes it's junior high girls program very seriously playing in spring tournaments, summer camps and a fall AAU league.
"We try to do the things the boys have done for years," he said. "He coached about 40 games with me and the girls loved him. He was chomping at the bit to help out, sitting up in the stands. He's coached his whole life (mostly boys basketball), but he made the transition really well. He knows the girls; he knows the game. He loves the game."
Osborn said a player on their team had just made a 3-point shot, just seconds before halftime, and Milius raised his fist in celebration.
"Then he just fell back on the chair," Osborn said. When he fell to the floor, Osborn and others ran to him and began performing CPR. He said they revived him twice before paramedics arrived, but he died shortly after arriving at the hospital.
The young team lost a teammate to cancer the first week of last season so coaches and parents were particularly concerned with helping the students navigate another traumatic loss.
Counselors from Davis District spent an hour and a half with the players and Osborn has talked with parents, as well.
"Every parent was there and witnessed that," he said. "It was rough on all of them."
Counselors told them that a return to routine would be helpful for the youngsters. Osborn cancelled Tuesday's game, but when the team gathered unexpectedly this afternoon to work on tributes to Milius and talk about their fears and feelings, they voted to resume practices Wednesday. They will play their next scheduled game on Thursday.
"We voted to play Thursday, and the compelling part of that was 'What would Dave want?'" Osborn said. "(He) died doing what he has a passion and a love for. He's a lucky guy in that sense."
Key in helping the students process what they witnessed, was helping them understand that no one could have prevented it. Other than slightly high blood pressure, Milius was very healthy and active, Osborn said.
The girls plan to attend his viewing and funeral in their uniforms, and they will play the season with a sweatband bearing his initials.
Osborn said the team's motto is "demand more" — a theme based on a quote that says "being average is contagious. If you demand more you get more," said Osborn. "And so our motto this season was 'Demand more.' Those are Dave's initials, and that's what Dave would want us to continue to do. Not play for him, but play as hard as we can. Give our best."
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