TERRE HAUTE —
At least one box of memories was carried out to the truck on Monday. The pictures that fill the wall space will probably be last to go.
And as of June 14, Mike Miller will be officially retired as athletic director after 13 years. “Lucky 13,” he quipped Monday.
A successor could be named at the June 18 meeting of the Vigo County School Corporation meeting, and that person will have two big sets of shoes to fill. He or she will be just the third to have the title of athletic director at West Vigo in 43 years — Jim Mann had the job for 30 years before Miller succeeded him — and the smoothness of the operation in those years reflects the value of experience.
“When I got the [athletic director’s] job, I was already in the building [as a teacher],” Miller pointed out, “so I spent a lot of time with Jim … I still look for him to come in here sometime and tell me to get out of his chair.”
One of the things he learned from his predecessor, Miller said Monday, was to be detail-oriented.
“The big things [about the job] are obvious,” he said, “but there are a lot of little things you don’t realize until they don’t get done.”
Miller will no longer have to worry if those things are getting done, although he promised he won’t be a stranger at West Vigo.
“We’ll be running with the grandkids,” he promised. “With Cody [Thornton] at Olney [playing baseball] and Corinne [Thornton] in three sports, and Dakota [Short] coming in as a freshman and Devon [Short] in seventh grade [and with 2-year-old Reese Wilbur waiting in the wings] … I’ll probably attend just as many games. But I’ll get there five minutes before it starts, and when the horn sounds, I’ll go home.”
Cody Thornton was also involved in what Miller agreed was the biggest single highlight of his career as athletic director, playing right field as a freshman in 2009 when West Vigo reached the Class 3A state championship game in baseball.
“Having your grandson out there as a freshman … I think that would be the high point for any AD,” Miller said. The best part of his job, he added, was “seeing kids accomplish something — making a big free throw at the end of the game, clearing a hurdle — when you know how much time they’ve put in to get to that level.”
Asked what he’ll miss about the job, Miller said, “the every-day interaction with the kids and the staff. Mr. B [principal Tom Balitewicz] has been great to work with … even though it took awhile for me to train him,” Miller joked.
“Mike is one of the most dedicated school professionals I’ve ever seen,” Balitewicz said Monday. “He’s always fulfilled every responsibility, and he’s been a visionary who has allowed our athletic department to grow tremendously.”
What he won’t miss as much, Miller noted, was the time consumed by the job. When he attended an orientation session for new athletic directors 13 years ago, he learned that the average length of an athletic director’s stay is three years, and that there’s a 25-percent turnover every year.
“Jan Gambill [girls athletic director at Northview] is the only [athletic director] in the [Western Indiana Conference] who was already in place when I started,” Miller pointed out. “It’s a pretty long work week, particularly when school starts … it’s not a job for a guy raising a family.”
Balitewicz might not agree, at least in Miller’s case. “He’s one of the most dedicated family people I’ve ever known in my life,” the principal said.
Even during 16-hour days, however, Miller never felt he was far from home and the people he loved.
“I was fortunate having Cody and Corinne here, and Dakota and Devon in middle school, and [wife] Kathy in the building,” he said. “I got to do this at the school I went to [he still has the West Vigo record for rebounds in a game], and the school my daughters went to, and the school my grandchildren go to … I can’t believe how quick it’s gone.”
Kathy Miller is also retiring — and the hole she’s leaving in the West Vigo department of family and consumer science is just as big, probably worthy of a story in itself — so the couple can plan a few things they’ve been putting off.
“We have a bucket list,” Mike Miller said, “but she has a honey list too.”