Staley’s Bears 1920-1921

Howard Vane Millard

Height: 5’10” Weight: 210 [When retired]
Born: 8/30/1891 Peoria, IL
Died: 10/23/1961 Fresno, CA
High Schools: Peoria Central, Penn Academy – Iowa
Colleges: Penn College, IA; Iowa State University; Illinois Wesleyan

Howard V. Millard came to Decatur in March 1920 to be sports editor of the Decatur Review newspaper at the same time that George S. Halas arrived to play baseball and football for the A.E. Staley Company. Within a few weeks, Millard was officiating Industrial League, high school, college and professional athletic contests. In the fall he often worked a high school or college football game on Saturday, then a Staley football game on Sunday, and then wrote the story of the games he officiated for the Monday newspaper. Before the end of each month he also wrote nearly a play-by-play review and box score of all of the recent Staley games for the Staley Journal. Halas later recalled that Millard was the first professional football public relations man for his efforts at spreading the fame of the Staley eleven. As a gesture of its gratitude, the team management paid Millard $125.00 at the end of the 1920 season, much more than four of the players who actually got into some games.

Millard grew up in Peoria and attended Peoria Central High School before moving to Mahaska County, Iowa in 1909 to live with his aunt and uncle. He wrote for the local newspaper and attended Penn Academy for three years where he played basketball and set a then Iowa high school record of 16 consecutive free throws in one game. He attended Penn College in Oskaloosa in 1912-1913 where he played forward on the varsity basketball team and at a time when free throws were usually attempted with a two-handed underhand toss, “His ability to drop the sphere through the ring from the foul line is well known.” He then spent one year in law school at Iowa State University before future U. S. Senator and former Illinois Wesleyan athlete and law student Scott Lucas convinced him to finish college in Bloomington, Illinois.

Enrolling in the fall of 1914 Millard won three varsity letters playing center field on the baseball team. “The Wasp” was captain of the basketball team his senior year setting a conference record for free throws. Following graduation from Wesleyan in 1917 he worked briefly in Peoria before entering the U. S. Navy and assigned to Ensign School at Chicago’s brand new Municipal Pier #2 [now Navy Pier]. After the war he spent six months working for the Moline Plow Company and worked on his writing skills before becoming assistant sports editor in 1919 for his hometown Peoria Star newspaper. In the spring of 1920 he was hired to come to Decatur by Review editor Otto R. Kyle and immediately threw himself into officiating and promoting the A.E. Staley sports program. In 1921 he inadvertently got himself into trouble when he served as an official in the annual Taylorville versus Carlinville semi-pro football game. He was not aware that Taylorville had secretly “hired” University of Illinois football players to compete against the ringers from Notre Dame who suited up for Carlinville. When it was discovered that he had participated in the game he was barred from Big Ten officiating for two years.

On August 6, 1923 he married Thelma A. Brannan. Their only child, Harry William “Buddy” Millard, often accompanied his father throughout the Midwest during reporting or officiating assignments. During his first two years at the Review Millard penned a sports column called “In Cold Type.” In 1922, referring to himself as “Bait,” he began his “Bait for Bugs” olio sports feature that continued until his 1958 retirement. It was in this column that he often reminded readers that the Chicago Bears had its origin as Decatur Staleys and reported on the triumphs and passing of many of these Staley players.

Millard helped organize the first state officials’ organization and in 1933 was elected its president as well later of the Illinois State Baseball League. In the 1920s he helped organize the Central Illinois Tennis Association and the Inter-City Golf Association. A well-respected sports official, in addition to his work with Midwest college conferences, he served as a referee in high school state basketball finals in Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri and North Dakota. In 1954 he wrote the history of the Illinois state high school basketball finals and just before his retirement was elected president of the Illinois Associated Press Sports Editors Association.

He was also well-known in Decatur for giving back to his adopted city. In 1944 Decatur High School only had one African-American player on its highly successful basketball team. Apparently Harold Lawrence often rode to the away games separately with Millard. After Lawrence, a 16 year-old senior, and his sister were killed in a car accident on Christmas night 1944, Millard instituted the “Harold Lawrence Trophy” in his honor at Decatur High School, given annually to the team’s best free throw shooter. Stephen Decatur went on that school year to win the 1945 state basketball championship. Less tragically, Millard also set up the “Max Poscover Trophy” at Millikin University for the best free throw shooter.

Howard V. Millard retired as Sports Editor of the Decatur Herald & Review newspapers on October 1, 1958. He and his wife moved to Fresno, California to be closer to son Buddy and four grandchildren. In 1961, at the age of 70, he suffered a heart attack and died three days later at the Fresno Veterans Administration Hospital. He was brought back to Decatur and was buried at Fairlawn Cemetery. His simple red granite marker is embellished on all four corners with images of the sports equipment he so loved. The former law student turned sports writer was admitted to the Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1973.

Copyright © 2016 Mark W. Sorensen