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Eagles dedicate new gym to Miller

March 28, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. - Gilbert Miller received a gift that most people never live to see on Saturday.

He was showered with praise and fond memories by his close friends, family and colleagues in the Hedgesville High School community while he was still around to see it.

"I was talking to someone the other day and he told me having something like this is extremely unusual," Miller said. "People usually talk about you like this after you die. Maybe they're trying to tell me something. ... I got a letter from Brown Funeral Home yesterday."

Fortunately, the people of Hedgesville didn't wait to let Miller know what they think of him. In fact, the community turned out for a loving, living tribute to the man who helped put Hedgesville High on the map by dedicating its new $6.5 million physical education and health complex in his honor.

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The Gilbert B. Miller Health and Physical Education Center was unveiled to a huge crowd of Gilbert Miller fans who wanted to take the chance to thank their coach, teacher and friend for the impact he made on their lives during his 33 years of service at the school.

"I'm one of many who got the chance to play under Gib," said Russell Barrett, one of four friends to give reflective speeches in Miller's honor. "It is his philosophy and discipline he used and put into our lives to make us successful."

Miller's legacy started when Hedgesville opened its doors in 1956. For the next 33 years, Miller not only taught government, history and economics, but guided its baseball and basketball team to early success.

He took the baseball team from its roots and made it a consistent winner. The team was so new, it didn't have a field to play on until Miller got the project in gear.

He also had a 14-year stint as basketball coach, leading the Eagles to the Class A title in 1970. He also served as the golf, tennis, track and football coach - or "chaperone" as he called it - and spent his last 13 years as the school's athletic director. In his coaching tenure, from freshman basketball to baseball, Miller's teams never produced a losing record.

"He was a coach's coach. He was a player's coach," said Hedgesville wrestling coach Bill Whittington, who was the event's master of ceremonies.

"He let players and students know what he stood for, but more importantly, he showed them what he wouldn't stand for," Whittington said.

"The true measure of a coach is what coaches and the kids think of him then, a year later, two years later and 30 years later. He got the most out of his players and students. He coached on the floor, the field, in the hallways and in the classroom."

Miller is proof many thought highly of him. In fact, former West Virginia University basketball coach Gale Catlett, who played baseball for Miller, took a 20-hour flight from New Zealand to arrive just in time for the event to honor Miller.

The new facility houses health, science and dance classrooms and has enough room to hold four physical education classes at once. It is also a new basketball arena which can be used as a community center that can hold 2,500 people.

Miller accepted the dedication in honor of his children and grandchildren and took time to remember all the teachers, coaches and players he worked with. Then he challenged Hedgesville to use it's new facility to it's fullest.

"Ninety percent of my success I owe to the people of Hedgesville," he said. "It was 33 years of great fun. I thank Hedgesville for giving me the greatest job in the world and we got a state championship. I think it was a good trade.

"A lot of product went into building this. I challenge everyone here to turn a product out of this building that we can be proud of. The kids are the most important thing we have."

When it was over, a long line of wellwishers stopped to shake Miller's hand. With each, in his own Southern gentleman humor and demeanor, the old coach would have a story for or about each one.

Finally, he realized his name would soon be spelled out on the outside of the new complex as a lasting tribute to his contributions.

"It gives me cold chills," Miller said. "I got up this morning and my stomach was churning. I had to tell myself I wasn't coaching. This is something that gives life a little more meaning."

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