As a child, Jerome James (JJ) McMillian used to read the sports section of the paper every single day. Years later, he now works at Hillsdale College as the ball boy manager for football and basketball teams,and is and the Charger’s number one fan.
“He’s just the joy in our lives and keeps us happy and made my senior year worthwhile and actually made my whole college career worthwhile,” senior guard on the women’s basketball team Becca Scherting said. “Him cheering for me at every game meant a lot, and that’s one of my favorite memories from college: JJ cheering for me at games.”
McMillian moved to Hillsdale about 25 years ago from Detroit, where he grew up and lived with his family. He’s worked at Kroger and Dawn Theater, and he now works at Wal-Mart in maintenance. He began working with Hillsdale College nearly 17 years ago.
“I enjoy the job, I enjoy these people, it’s a good atmosphere, and they keep me on my toes every single time,” McMillian said, then added about some of the athletes: “They make me laugh, and we have a good time whether it was at home or on the road. I like them so much. I’m gonna miss Becca Scherting ‘cause she’s gonna be graduating next year, but at least I’ve still got Brittany Gray and Bree Porter.”
Grounds Keeper and Equipment Manager Rich Alvarez first offered the job to McMillian. As a ball boy for football, McMillian walks up and down with the officials to provide a ball when they need one.
“They asked us to have mature, grown-up adults that know what’s going on in a football game,” Head Football Coach Keith Otterbein said. “He’s there, he’s a veteran. Usually what happens is our injured players fill in as the other ball boys, but McMillian is the constant piece of that puzzle.”
McMillian said he first began with a few buddies, but he’s the only one left now.
“I step it up to be a ball boy manager. Now I’m a boss,” he said. “I make sure I tell these guys if they got any questions, if they got any problems, to come to me and we’ll figure it out together. I’m there for them — I never miss a beat.”
McMillian is also involved with Hillsdale High School sporting events and he roots for the Wolverines, Lions, Tigers, and Red Wings. He said one of his favorite times of year is graduation season, when he can meet college students’ parents and attend high school graduation open houses. McMillian is known all over town, but especially to families involved with the Hornets and Chargers.
“I got family in Hillsdale county, Michigan, too,” McMillian said. “They make me feel welcome and they gave me open arms. They gave me opportunities to spread that love for Charger football games, whether they’re here or on the road. We all have good times.”
He remembers the big games: beating Grand Valley State University at homecoming and making the playoffs in 2009. And he’s never missed a home game as long as Otterbein said he could remember.
“He’s upbeat, outgoing, friendly, enthusiastic, fun to be around. He just brings a light into a room,” Otterbein said. “We’re happy he’s here. He’s part of our environment, part of our community, and an important part as he gets to know and see people.”
McMillian greets people by name, even yelling across the court or — in the case of Scherting — across Wal-Mart to say hello.
Scherting had to sit out of her last season with the Chargers because of an injury, but she said McMillian continued to cheer for her, even during warm-ups, as her biggest fan.
“When I first met JJ, he was the happiest man I had ever seen. His cheering, his smile, I’ve never seen anybody smile as big as him. I just thought, ‘I really need to meet this guy because I want that joy and happiness in my life because he just exudes happiness,’” Scherting said.
When he’s able, McMillian will sometimes travel to away games as well, and he always attends the several-hour-long end-of-the-year banquet.
“He’s very personable. He’s calling people out by names from across the court. It’s like he knows everybody in town, that’s what you kind of feel like,” Head Men’s Basketball Coach John Tharp said. “You get to know him and you realize he’s got such a great smile and he’s such a nice person, and then again you start to find out who he is. He’s always willing to help Hillsdale teams out where he can.”
For basketball, that means keeping score, hustling the balls, wiping the floors, and supporting the players no matter what.
“All I gotta do is just keep Hillsdale strong, and the Chargers strong, and the Hornets strong,” McMillian said.