The spirit of a championship journey was celebrated Monday morning at Wellston High School as friends and family members gathered for a Celebration of Life event in Austin Milliken's memory. A large crowd assembled in the high school gymnasium to remember the 17 years of special memories this young man brought to the community and school district as a basketball player, student, football team manager, and friend.
Austin was also given a special tribute by the Wellston High School Marching Band as members performed the Rocket Fight Song as well as other tunes.
Austin was the son of Mike and Mary Milliken and the brother of Ryan Milliken. The Wellston City School District canceled classes on Monday as a tribute to Austin and to allow the Celebration of Life service to be held at the high school.
The young man lived a short life beset by a serious illness, but he inspired those who knew him with his courage and the way he lived his life. Austin had already received his diploma, certifying his membership in the WHS Class of 2017. Many people were wearing "Austin's Army" shirts as part of the tribute.
Celebration Service and Special Gifts
The service was conducted by Pastor Rob Ervin, who was also Austin's basketball coach.
He noted Austin may have lost his battle with AVM disease, but he certainly made the most of his life. Much of this credit was extended to his parents.
"They did not seclude him from living life," said Ervin. "He gave a championship effort to everything he ever did."
Austin's efforts and contributions were appreciated by many including coaches from Wellston and Nelsonville- York, who presented him with some special gifts. One of those was the game ball from the last game in which he ever served as the water boy. It was presented to him by Rockets' head football coach Greg Phillips.
"I gave him the Vinton County game ball just after the game," said Phillips after the ceremony. "It was only the third time in my 29-year coaching career I gave anyone a game ball." The football was signed by the players and coaches.
Austin was also given a signed basketball by the Nelsonville-York Buckeyes basketball program to commemorate the points he scored at the Ben Wagner gym.
"Austin loved to shoot the three-pointer and today old number 31 made his final three from heaven," Pastor Ervin commented.
As the service closed, Austin was given a standing ovation as a final sendoff to a special #31 in Wellston High School history.