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A roundup of news on sporting events, people and places in Southeast Michigan by columnist Jim Evans.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Coaches help present a Merry Christmas

Royal Oak High swim coach Darrin Millar (right) and his team will host a pair of Toys for Tots meets in December. (Daily Tribune photo by Liz Carnegie)

The Star Wars Death Star.
Was it Santa who brought that toy to the Millar house on Fifth Street in Royal Oak via sleigh or was it Emperor Palpatine disguised in a red velvet suit?
“I was nine years old. It was 1977 and the first Star Wars movie had just come out. I could not have been more excited to get the Star Wars Death Star,” said Darrin Millar, the boys’ swim coach at Royal Oak High School. “It came in a really big box.”
Every youngster deserves that sort of excitement during the holiday season. That is why Millar is asking people who come to his home meets in December; Tuesday, Dec. 6, against Lamphere, and Tuesday, Dec. 13, against Clarkston to bring a new, unwrapped toy.
That toy will serve as the admission cost for fans. The toys will be donated to the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program.
“My younger brother, Duncan, and I used to get up at 4:30 in the morning on Christmas to do some recon,” said the Royal Oak coach, laughing. “We had to take a look at all of the presents.”
That is what Toys for Tots is all about; making sure all of the children get presents.
The objectives of the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program, according to the program’s website ( are “to help less fortunate children throughout the United States experience the joy of Christmas; to play an active role in the development of one of our nation’s most valuable resources – our children.”
Jeff Olson, an assistant on boys’ varsity basketball head coach Mark Bray’s staff at Utica Ford, certainly agrees with that objective.
That is why the Ford Falcons will also host a Toy for Tots benefit game on Friday, Dec. 9, when the Sterling Heights Stallions visit. Anyone bringing a new, unwrapped toy will get $2 off the price of a ticket.
“This is an opportunity to provide some type of lasting memory on Christmas morning for kids who might not otherwise have that pleasant memory,” said Olson.
Both Millar and Olson grew up in Royal Oak. Millar graduated from Dondero High School and Olson is a Kimball grad. The two schools have now merged into Royal Oak High.
Millar and Olson are both educators at Schwarzkoff Elementary School in Sterling Heights.
“Darrin and I are co-sponsors of the student council at Schwarzkoff. We participate in the Toys for Tots program at Schwarzkoff, and we wondered  why don’t we do it as coaches?” said Olson.
Among his favorite Christmas presents as a child was a He-Man action figure. He-Man was wrapped up with Battle Cat.
Olson and his older brother, Brent, who also played basketball at Kimball and is now a police officer in Arlington, Virginia, used to get up on Christmas morning about 7 although, he added laughingly, “you’d have to check with my parents on that one. It might have been earlier.”
Both coaches are now married themselves with families.
Jeff and Kristin Olson have two children; Ella, who is four, and three-year-old Luke.
“Ella is in the princess phase. She’d like anything princess-related for Christmas. Luke is not quite to the point where things are relevant. He’d like anything. He likes Pillow Pets and things like that,” said Olson.
Darrin and Cammie Millar have two daughters; Emily, who is 11, and nine-year-old Danielle.
“The girls will get up at about 6 on Christmas morning and do their own recon,” said Millar, laughing. “They want to take a look at the presents.”
Both coaches know how fortunate they are that their children do not have to rely on Toys for Tots to populate the area under the Christmas tree.
Both dads are proud to help populate that area for less-fortunate kids.


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