Miller leaves legacy of success throughout OV
Monte Miller simply had a way about him.
Whether it was the athletes he coached, the students he taught or even some of the less fortunate that he mentored, Miller had an uncanny way to get the most out of everyone he crossed paths with.
It was a gift. It’s a gift that left this world far too soon.
Miller, 72, died at home late Thursday night after battling health problems for the better part of two years.
Long-time friend Gay Lucci had visited with Miller many times in his final months and days.
Earlier this week, when Lucci was leaving the house after one of their lengthy talks, the two buddies from their adolescent years in Bellaire shared a moment.
“Monte looked at me and said, ‘what do you think?” Lucci recalled. “I looked at him and said, ‘sometimes the words have to be said (out loud), I love you and you did what you were supposed to do.’ Monte looked back at me and said, ‘I gave it my all.'”
He did just that in everything he did.
Though he leaves behind his wife Ruth Ann, two married daughters and four grandchildren, Coach Monte left this world at peace.
“The suffering had been tough on him, and I don’t think he minded dying because he didn’t want his wife and kids to see him like that any longer,” Lucci said. “He had some bleeding, his kidneys were shutting down and he was supposed to undergo another open-heart surgery.”
Miller, who just celebrated his birthday on July 25, fought the way he encouraged his athletes.
“His wife, Ruth Ann, told the doctors that it wasn’t his mentality to give up,” Lucci said. “It was his coaching mentality. And she said his buddies weren’t the type of people to give up either.”
After a stint in the military, Miller entered teaching and coaching. He spent time at St. John Central, St. Clairsville and retired from Bellaire.
Each stop included success.
Miller, who gained coaching experience in basketball, football and volleyball, will always be known as a track coach. He spent 17 years at St. Clairsville and nearly a decade at Bellaire.
Regardless of the school, Miller’s teams and individuals were successful.
Actually, Miller is one of the few Ohio Valley track coaches who could claim that he won every meet there is to win. Whether it was the state, regional, district, OVAC, Bellaire Relays, Shadyside Relays, Shamrock Relays, Belmont County, etc., Miller had at least one team win the title.
He guided the St. Clairsville girls program to the pinnacle in 1981 when they claimed the Class AA State Championship.
“Coach Miller was a team builder who believed we could win and helped us believe in his vision,” Sharon Vincent, a multiple-time state champion on that ’81 St. C. squad and OVAC Hall of Famer, said.
Fitting with his M.O., Miller never cut Vincent — regardless of her talent and speed — any slack.
“He challenged me by insisting that I practice with the boys team despite my insistence that I couldn’t do it,” Vincent recalled. “That one audacious move gave me the endurance and speed to go up against all of my oppo Vincent, who was inducted to the Eastern District HOF in June, hadn’t seen Miller since her induction to the OVAC Hall of Fame a few summers ago.
“That was a special evening for both of us,” Vincent recalled. “I was glad we were able to share it.”
While Vincent and the ’81 team garner most of the acclaim when you talk about the Miller era of track and field at St. C., little did Coach Miller probably ever realize that he was in the process of molding the future head coach of Red Devils track and field.
Tony Ciroli, who guided the Devils to a state boys track and field championship in 2016, competed for Miller for four years in the 80s. Actually, Ciroli was selected by Miller’s family to accept his award at the aforementioned Eastern District Track and Field Hall of Fame banquet.
“He was a teacher, coach, mentor and friend,” Ciroli said. “To many, he is a legend. He helped shape who I am today as a coach and a teacher.”
Ciroli — like almost everyone you talk to about Miller — mentioned the “tough outer surface” that Miller portrayed. However, once you were able to penetrate that, you got to see the man who was really there.
“Under that surface, he was a caring man who helped a lot of us become better people,” Ciroli said.
After 17 seasons at the helm of the Red Devils, Miller got his opportunity to come home. He accepted the boys and girls’ track jobs at Bellaire.
Miller certainly didn’t change who he was in either capacity. He won a lot, including two regional titles and nine OVACs, produced high-level athletes and returned Bellaire track and field to prominence.
“The thing about Monte was he always did what he thought was right,” Lucci said. “A lot of people may not have agreed or realized it at the time, but he always had his athletes and the schools best interest in mind.”
While Miller guided Vincent at St. C. to a hall of fame career, he coached OVAC Hall of Famer Kacie Vavrek to four state titles during her career in the Red and Black.
“Coach Monte was truly one of a kind and made track at Bellaire some of the best memories from my high school career,” Vavrek said. “He always pushed us to be the best we could be and everyone loved track season because of the fun and competitive environment he created.”
Vavrek was a key cog in the 2002 regional championship team.
Though Vavrek set a myriad of records and won seemingly every meet she entered, she, like Vincent, wasn’t beyond feeling Miller’s wrath from time to time.
“Coach Monte had some of the best one liners that I can remember,” Vavrek said. “He could insult you, but at the same time, it was inspiring, too.”
During his tenure at Bellaire, which began in 1995, Miller also spent a handful of years as the school’s athletic director and also was the head volleyball coach for several seasons.
“It didn’t matter what he was involved with … whether it was coaching, teaching, being A.D., it didn’t matter. Monte was all business,” Lucci said.
Miller handed over the reins of the program to Shawn Valloric, who worked under him as an assistant from 2001 until taking over the positioon, which he still holds, in 2008.
“The best thing about Monte was he was very genuine. You always knew where you stood with him. He let you know exactly what he thought,” Valloric said. “He always strove to bring out the best in, not only his athletes, but his assistants, as well. My time with him helped me become a better coach by finding new ways on improving on the good things he did. He will be missed.”
Miller flashed that rough exterior on more than one occassion at Nelson Field track meets as he used what Vavrek referred to as “Coach Monte’s famous golf cart” to patrol the infield and make sure competitors not involved with an upcoming event weren’t simply congregating on the field.
“Monte was always a guy that wasn’t afraid to let you know what he thought,” current Bellaire Athletics Director Mike Sherwood said. “As an athlete and coach, Monte was a fierce competitor and never backed down.”
Many saw that side of Miller each night around the track, volleyball court or even the basketball court when he was a player, but Sherwood summarized Miller’s personal side quite well.
“Monte was a compassionate person who often looked to befriend thoe kids who most needed help,” Sherwood said.
Sports and championships aside, the besy way to remember Monte Miller is as a man who was always willing to help kids to get the most out of themselves.
Miller was a championship coach and also a championship individual.