Photo courtesy of USC Upstate Athletic Communications.
Mills Sproull played collegiately at the University of South Carolina Upstate after graduating from Oak Mountain High School in 2013. The Mills Sproull “We Are One” Alumni Association seeks to honor his legacy.
Frigid temperatures were no deterrence.
In early January, a group of Oak Mountain High School boys soccer alumni gathered at Heardmont Park amid chilly conditions to play a pickup match that was far more than a pickup match.
This was the inaugural Mills Sproull “We Are One” Alumni Association game, and Eagles head boys soccer coach Dan DeMasters estimated that 25 to 30 former players and their families either participated or spectated.
“It was a pretty cool event,” DeMasters said.
The alumni association launched last spring and was named in honor of Sproull, a 2013 Oak Mountain graduate. Sproull donned an Eagles uniform for three years before signing to play collegiately at the University of South Carolina Upstate. He was one of four Upstate student-athletes killed in an October 2015 car crash near Spartanburg, South Carolina.
DeMasters said he had wanted to form an alumni association since he arrived at Oak Mountain prior to the 2013-2014 school year. His initial objective for the association was to keep former players connected with the program. But after Sproull died, he said that vision broadened.
“It’s just a very good way to remember an alumnus who was a very good soccer player and just exemplified exactly what you want in a student-athlete,” DeMasters said. “It’s an honor just to remember somebody who was like that, such a good player, such a good alumnus and just such a good family.”
Miller and Joy Sproull sent all four of their kids — Wimberly, Mills, Sparks and Holly — to Oak Mountain. For two of Mills Sproull’s three years on the soccer team, Joy Sproull served as the team’s parent representative to the faculty.
She said playing soccer at Oak Mountain occupied a special place in her son’s heart.
“His soccer team was everything to him. They were all best friends,” Joy Sproull said. “They did things together outside of soccer. They were good kids.”
Danny La Rota, a 2013 Oak Mountain graduate, ascended through the Eagles’ program alongside Mills Sproull. The two first met in middle school and had played together on club and school teams since.
La Rota characterized his former teammate and close friend as “one of the most selfless people out there on the field.”
“He was definitely the one that would always cheer up any situation,” he said.
That effervescence, according to La Rota, made Mills Sproull one of the team’s uniting figures. His impact wasn’t limited to the pitch. At the end of huddles, La Rota said his teammate would always pull everyone back into the circle, so they could yell out a collective chant, “We are one!”
“It just kind of became a little tradition, kind of a silly thing,” La Rota said. “I guess it’s just come to mean a lot more to the rest of us now thinking back about that.”
“We Are One” has become the signature phrase associated with Mills Sproull’s legacy. Naming the alumni association in his honor ensures that won’t change.
“It’s over the top at how much it honors our family and Mills and really just makes us feel loved,” Joy Sproull said. “One of the things when you lose a child is you want your child to be remembered. It’s so important, and it helps with the healing.”
DeMasters said he plans to hold the Mills Sproull “We Are One” Alumni Association game on an annual basis, though he may consider moving it to a warmer part of the year.
But that’s not the program’s only expression of remembrance.
Since last season, the Oak Mountain boys soccer team has worn armbands inscribed with Mills Sproull’s initials and number during matches. DeMasters said the Eagles will sport them for many years to come.
“He and his family were such an intricate part of this community and program that we wanted to do something for them and our program to remember Mills forever,” DeMasters said. “It is something that we keep near and dear to our hearts and know that we are playing for a lot more than just ourselves.”