TERRE HAUTE —
I recognized that steady look on Mark Miller’s face.
On Tuesday morning, he wore it while talking with a teary-eyed student and a parent in his office at Sarah Scott Middle School. In 1975, he wore that expression in the third-base coaching box at Honey Creek Junior High. These days, kids know him as their principal. All those years ago, we called him “Coach.” Same good, decent guy, though.
Sometimes, the right people cross our paths. When that occurs, it’s a fortunate thing, because the opposite can happen, too.
Through 39 years, hundreds of youngsters and teenagers came to know Miller as their shop teacher (later labeled “industrial arts” and then “technology”), coach, dean, assistant principal and principal. The 450 students currently filling the classrooms of Sarah Scott represent the last group on that continuum. Miller is retiring at the end of this school year.
“Without question, the biggest thing I’ll miss is the kids,” he said. “When you come in, you never know what you’ll be faced with.”Apparently, the dozen or so shaggy-haired 15-year-olds who comprised his 1975 Honey Creek Bees freshman baseball team turned out to be a pleasant surprise for him. That was the first of Miller’s 37 years in the Vigo County School Corp. (He started his career in Tippecanoe and Montgomery counties, before moving to Terre Haute — the hometown of his wife, Jan, and the site of Miller’s alma mater, Indiana State University.)
That season unfolded almost magically. We could do no wrong. We never lost. Our closest threat came from the Otter Creek Otters, who battled us in an 11-inning season opener that ended in a 1-1 tie, called because of darkness. The two teams played a rematch to decide the county title during the last week of that school year. “Under perfect weather conditions,” as described in a May 29, 1975, Terre Haute Star story, Honey Creek won 4-2.
“Here I am, 24 years old, and I’m thinking, ‘This is easy,’” Miller recalled, grinning at the memory. “The talent we had, and the pitching was just tremendous. It was fun to watch.”
And it was fun to play on that team. I was the catcher, who swung an Adirondack 34 with a sweet spot that seemed three-feet wide. (Bats were wooden then.) That season remains a good memory, and Coach Miller deserves credit for that. He kept baseball a game. For a couple months, the old ball diamond, hidden in the woods behind the school, became our oasis. A quirky oasis, to be sure. You had to follow a trail and hop the creek to reach it. The field was a clearing, fully surrounded by trees. The left-field “fence” was a collection of maples, oaks and pines. The third-base line flooded easily, so we devised ways to drain it.
“It was an old field, but we took care of it,” Miller said. “It was ours.”
Foul balls often disappeared in the foliage. “We used to tease the visitors that there were alligators in that swamp,” Miller said, chuckling. “And we’d lose baseballs by the dozens.”
The place suited Miller. He spent 19 years at Honey Creek, before moving to Terre Haute South Vigo High School for five years as a teacher and then dean, and then to West Vigo High School for four years as assistant principal. Miller became principal at Sarah Scott 11 years ago, “and it’s just flown by,” he said.
The kids of 2011 aren’t so different from those in 1975. “Kids will really just do what you ask of them,” Miller said. “I don’t know that kids have changed that much, but society has, and that can make it difficult.”
As for his own childhood, Miller grew up in tiny Howesville, where he somehow got tagged with the nickname “Hoot.” For those unfamiliar, “It’s just east of Black Cat,” he explained with a laugh. (Or, between Clay City and Jasonville.) He played baseball at Shakamak High School, where the sport is simply part of the community’s culture. After graduating in 1969, Miller was determined to work in the coal mines, just as his father and grandfather had done. His dad urged him to consider college.
“He said, ‘If you go, I’ll pay for it,’” Miller recalled. After initially resisting, he agreed to go to ISU. Along with his parents’ financial help, Miller worked at Stran Steel and as a custodian at ISU to cover the costs, and graduated in just three years. He landed a job at East Tippecanoe Junior High School in Lafayette and never left the education profession. Leaving it now, through retirement, isn’t easy, either, though Miller, 60, and Jan — his wife of 38 years — have plans to spend time with their two daughters and two grandchildren.
Memories of students, past and present, have filled Miller’s thoughts lately. In fact, he decided to make a list of 39 kids — one from each year he’s been in education — who made an impact on him, or on whom he made an impact. They weren’t all straight-A students, but all learned or experienced something memorable.
That includes a guy from Miller’s early years as a shop teacher at Honey Creek. They crossed paths, again, recently.
Miller asked him, “So, what are you doing now?”
He answered, “I’m doing what you taught me — I’m a welder.”
Miller had a catch in his voice as he told that story. And that steady look on his face.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERRE HAUTE —
I recognized that steady look on Mark Miller’s face.
- News Columns
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Hoosiers’ priorities vs. legislators’ agenda
Every year at about this time, Statehouse reporters like me ask lawmakers what their priorities will be for the coming year.
MARRIAGE EQUALITY: Cheneys’ feud hits Indiana
Oh, it’s on.
If there was any doubt that the coming fight over the same-sex marriage ban amendment in Indiana was going to be elevated to the national level, it’s gone.
Chamber: Repeal ‘smoker’s bill of rights’
When Indiana lawmakers return for the 2014 session in early January, they’ll step into the highly charged issue of marriage equality as they debate the proposed amendment that would lock into the state constitution a ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Inching on toward a cold winter?
I’m not ready for snow and ice and the daggers of a north wind, but I have finally accepted the fact that winter is nearly here.
MARK BENNETT: Words, and what they mean, is what we remember
I remember scanning the granite wall at the grave of President John F. Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery, looking for those words.
Citizens fight for school funds
Never underestimate the power of high school band parents.
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John getting another shot at Baseball Hall of Fame
Go ahead, circle Dec. 9 on your calendar.
Pence eyes reducing infant mortality as key legislative goal for administration
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence opened the state’s Infant Mortality Summit last week by sharing a personal story: He and his wife had struggled with infertility issues early in their marriage, so the eventual arrival of their three children was met with deep gratitude and appreciation.
Filling our void: Terre Haute artist Bill Wolfe poured his heart and soul into the project of a lifetime
Bill Wolfe thumbed through a series of photographs documenting his sculpture of basketball legend Larry Bird.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Pumpkins: Good for the fork and the (carving) knife
My wife and I are fairly frugal; we are budgeters and planners. In the fall, we set aside what we’ll need to heat the house and pay the doctor and buy sensible shoes for school. I think we’re going to have to open an account for pumpkins, too.
MAX JONES: Fight for public access among Dave Cox’s legacies
A group of Indiana newspaper editors who advise the Hoosier State Press Association on issues related to access to public records and meetings had the opportunity to meet new Public Access Counselor Luke Britt last week.
MARK BENNETT: Indiana’s Donnelly part of ‘The Middle’ that got deal done
Hanging out in the middle isn’t cool.
Its occupants don’t attract a captivated circle of listeners at parties, their comments don’t inspire hell-yeahs on Facebook, and they don’t pretend to always be right.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Déjà vu, courtesy of violinist prodigy
It’s been said that the longer married couples stay together, the more they begin to think alike. I can’t refute that, although, for my wife’s sake, I hope a similar theory — that they begin to look alike, too — is far from true.
America, falling behind global peers
As Congress was descending further into dysfunction last week, this discouraging piece of news emerged: Despite how we Americans insist that we’re the best and brightest people on the globe, we’re not.
MAX JONES: Ernie Pyle’s IU legacy should be preserved
As an alum of Indiana University-Bloomington, where I received a bachelor’s degree in journalism many moons ago, I’ve been watching with keen interest the ongoing discussion about merging the School of Journalism with other areas of communications, such as PR and filmmaking, inside the College of Arts & Sciences.
MARK BENNETT: ISU professor’s book on Churchill to be TV period drama
Somewhere, Winston Churchill is lighting a celebratory cigar in Michael Shelden’s honor.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The beauty, spirit of a ‘lonely’ bridge
It was the best kind of day a few Saturdays ago: not quite 70 degrees, a slight breeze from the northwest barely pushed flat-bottomed white clouds around in an otherwise blue sky.
B.J. RILEY: Special Progress sections spotlight growth in Wabash Valley
Inserted in your Tribune-Star today is our annual Progress edition, “Community Update 2013.” This is the fifth year we have put together this type of publication, an effort months in the making.
MARK BENNETT: ‘The voice of the Democratic Party’
The ad stands as a campaign classic. Its scenario is part of history. Its narrator would be familiar to millions of Americans, yet anonymous, too.
Debate: Investing in early-childhood education
Should Indiana children wait until they are 7 years old before they step into a classroom?
Health care costs Hoosiers either way
In the war over the Affordable Care Act, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence won a policy victory when the Obama administration gave him a temporary pass to continue with the Healthy Indiana Plan, a high-deductible health insurance program that covers only 37,000 low-income Hoosiers.
MARK BENNETT: Even Marty McFly wouldn’t want to go back to those paydays
Reliving the 1980s may sound tempting.
Ah, simpler times. Then again … hair styles as big as mushroom clouds, “Miami Vice” jackets, the trickle-down theory, New Coke, Yugos.
OK, “Back to the Future”-style nostalgia obviously has its limits.
Same-sex marriage ban tests ‘Hoosier hospitality’
In a recent column I wrote when I visited Washington, D.C., as the city was preparing to host the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, I asked the questions: “Will we see diversity as a threat to our seemingly secure world? Or will we embrace it as a strength?”
MIKE LUNSFORD: It isn’t the end but it is the beginning of the end …
I had every intention of writing about Labor Day today; it has become a tradition of sorts for me because it seems as though my column and the holiday have an annual convergence. But as I thumbed through a number of other stories I’d written on the subject, I felt I had nothing new to say.
MARK BENNETT: Hoops film focuses on life of ‘Slick’ Leonard
Many Americans connect basketball with Indiana.
Anniversary of March cause for introspection
Many years ago, when I was a high school senior visiting college campuses, I met with an adviser at Indiana University whose job included recruiting new students to campus.
MARK BENNETT: Rose-Hulman bridge design would let people walk, run, ride across Wabash River
Four months, 500 miles and 18 towns.
In the course of compiling the “500 Miles of Wabash” series, which concludes this Sunday, Tribune-Star photographer Jim Avelis and I heard valuable insights from dozens of people who live, work and recreate along Indiana’s state river. One comment seems particularly relevant to Terre Haute, especially as the ongoing 2013 Year of the River celebration stirs ideas. The quotation affirms the potential of a stellar proposal this community ought to consider.
MIKE LUNSFORD: A long day’s journey into night
We arrived at the sprawling hulk of a motel well after dark, the parking lot pitch black except for a few spots illuminated by flickering blue lights that hummed a monotonous tune.
MARK BENNETT: When did athleticism surpass skill in sports?
Baseball has gotten too athletic.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Searching for Beulah Jane
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s Mike Lunsford column is the second in a two-part story on his search to solve a family mystery. Part 1 was published in Monday’s Tribune-Star. Both are available at www.tribstar.com.
- More News Columns Headlines
- MAUREEN HAYDEN: Hoosiers’ priorities vs. legislators’ agenda