Andy Till, who arrived at Millsaps in 2009 to coach Cross Country and Track and Field, resigned after the first track meet of the Fall 2021 season. Team member Worth Wilsey described the scene and paraphrased the former coach’s parting words: “We went through our post-race breakdown, and Coach [Till] asked everyone how their race was, and it just seemed like an average night—except for the part where Coach said, ‘By the way, this is my last race. The tent is yours, have a safe trip back to campus.” Following his departure, members of the team had to take the lead themselves while they waited on the College to hire a new coach. Wilsey, a junior at Millsaps, observed, “I feel like that sort of just taking initiative has defined the team in our time without a coach—on everyone’s part.”
Team members report that the team spent approximately two weeks practicing and competing on their own, and they remained committed to the early morning practices and workout routines. Though they did have some help from Millsaps Athletic Director Aaron Pelch, he has a large list of responsibilities and time commitments. In the end, the team grew stronger from having to lead itself. Wilsey commented, “This intermittent period where we didn’t have a coach was probably one of the strongest things that happened to the program in a while, and that didn’t come from someone telling us who we’re supposed to be or someone telling us what a team looks like; it came from grassroots sheer power of us organizing ourselves and watching each other’s backs.”
One player who requested anonymity agreed with his assessment, though she recognized the hardships that came with it: “I would say it definitely brought us together on an emotional friendship level, but it was a difficult time in terms of training and organization, and especially with the older people on the team it was kind of pressure to keep it all together. It was kind of a challenge to get up for workouts and trying to practice at the same time every day, but in terms of having good teammates, that wasn’t an issue. That definitely brought us closer because we were all like, ‘We didn’t come here just to have a specific coach. We are here for each other and love of the sport,’ and that just really was like, ‘Oh, well, that’s all that matters.’”
Coach Prather has only been coaching the team for a few weeks now, but she’s already had early success: at her first track meet, both the men’s and women’s teams won. According to a member on the team, that last happened about three years ago.
Prather’s priorities also seem to differ from Till’s as one team member said, “I feel like she’s going to be more focused on speed and cross-training and stuff like that versus Coach [Till] was kind of focused on pure mileage.”
Wilsey stated, “Coach P is so focused on prevention of injuries. She was a yoga teacher for 15 years… She’s very focused on cross-training and this holistic aspect of being an athlete. Till could be very narrow on his focus and approach. Coach Prather has got us in the pool at least once a week, she’s got us on bikes, she’s really focused on preventing that strain that just stacks and stacks and stacks, but all things considered, she still has us running more miles, but she has us doing it in this thoughtful way like she cares about our well-being as athletes.”
When asked about Till’s departure and Prather’s appointment, the Millsaps Athletic Director, Aaron Pelch, replied: “The college does not respond to personnel issues. I can tell you, however, that I am grateful for the work Coach Till did during his ten-plus years to mentor our athletes and grow both our Cross Country and Track and Field programs. The head cross country/track and field coach position is currently open, and we look forward to welcoming a new coach soon.” Coach Till declined the reporter’s request for comment.
Prather has only been working part-time so far and the college hasn’t officially announced her arrival yet, but we are all excited to see her changes within the program and how the team’s cooperation has strengthened since that difficult time without a coach.