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End of an eventful career: Gillis retires from the NFHS after 30 years

Mitchell native John Gillis has retired from the National Federation of State High School Associations after 30 years.

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Thirty years flew by like 30 minutes for John Gillis, but the memories he still vividly remembers echo someone who has spent the last three decades around the nation’s top high school athletes.

Gillis had his hand in nearly everything during his tenure on the administrative staff of the National Federation of State High School Associations since being hired in 1989. It took the 1973 Mitchell High School graduate across the country as he did everything from being the editor of the National High School Sports Record Book and multiple magazines, to administering the first live broadcast of a high school sporting event.

But at the end of the month, he’s retiring from a career which has led to him meeting everyone from Mike Breen to John Wooden. After 30 years, the 64-year-old is ready to move back to Kansas City, Missouri -- the NFHS’ former headquarters before moving to Indianapolis in 2000 -- to be closer to his brothers, Rick and Floyd.

“It’s been a long, great career and it was time for me to move on,” Gillis said. “I want to spend time with family.”

Gillis’ career was filled with cameos. He worked with Breen, who now calls NBA games for ABC, and former Marquette basketball player Jim Chones on SportsChannel America’s National Federation’s High School Game of the Week.

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He was on site for all 49 games in two years, which included gathering questionnaire answers from the athletes to have tidbits for the air. And even now, specific games and players haven’t eroded from his memory.

“First game we ever did was a football game between Cleveland Saint Ignatius -- the No. 1 team in America, according to USA Today,” Gillis said. “They played Euclid (Ohio) … they had the No. 1 player in the country -- Robert Smith.”

He also saw the likes of Ed O’Bannon, Damon Bailey, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and Chicago’s Martin Luther King High School, which was the No. 1 basketball team in the country at the time.

He took pictures with some, and got autographs from others, even after Game of the Week’s two-year stint ended. Gillis’ opportunities didn’t, though.

“I got moved into other areas -- journalism, publications, writing, video productions,”said Gillis, whose current position is as the associate director of video services.

It ranged from finding teams to compete in the T-Mobile Invitational (2006-2009), which was held in Washington, Indiana, New Mexico and Alabama. He was also an editor or writer for three different magazines.

At the end of his career, which saw him meet Wooden at his National High School Hall of Fame induction in 2001 and write an article about Bill Walton, he’s most proud of the time he spent administering the National High School Spirit of Sport Award and National High School Heart of the Arts Award.

“Those two awards are probably the two most rewarding,” Gillis said. “Because they recognized someone -- a student, coach or official -- who would encounter some sort of adversity and overcome it through the power of sport. That was a responsibility of a lifetime. … It became about people, and those are really a lot of fun.”

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The people he worked with, interviewed or handed questionnaires to are what he’ll miss the most. Even with growing up in a “sports town,” his amazement in the projects he’s worked on as a small-town kid is evident.

“It’s been an incredible ride. Met so many people, so many opportunities,” Gillis said. “Thirty years felt like it went by in 30 minutes in some ways. That’s what I’m going to miss more than anything -- the people. … The opportunities afforded to me, a young guy from Mitchell, it just boggles my mind.”

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