By Mike London
Beth Miller, North Carolina’s Senior Associate Athletic Director for Olympic Sports, has a mouthful for a title, lots of light blue in her wardrobe and 16 tons of responsibility.
UNC competes in 28 sports. Miller, a Landis native who graduated from South Rowan in 1965, is involved with 26.
Athletics director Dick Baddour handles football and men’s basketball, the sports that bring in the dollars and inflame the passions of thousands of fans.
Baddour and Miller share women’s basketball. Beyond that, Miller shoulders the supervisory load for everything from golf to gymnastics, from tennis to track.
“It’s a big job, but it’s also pretty exciting,” Miller said in a phone interview. “We’ve won championships, and when you’re talking national championships in anything, each one is very special.”
Miller has presided over more titles than she can count. She’d run out of fingers on women’s soccer alone.
The shining moment was the 1994 women’s basketball championship. Miller was headed down to the floor and watching from the crowded steps of the Richmond Coliseum when Charlotte Smith tossed in the last-second shot that beat Louisiana Tech.
Miller gets choked up just talking about it.
Miller recently returned from Omaha, Neb., and the College World Series. Baseball has the highest profile in her realm, with back-to-back national runner-up finishes.
She spent a chunk of her time in Omaha providing scoring updates for her sister, Nancy Jean Storie, who was busy peddling half-and-half tickets at South Rowan American Legion games.
“Omaha is a very exciting championship because for two weeks that city is built around the World Series,” Miller said. “They have a unique situation there.”
Except for ESPN, the College World Series isn’t much different now than it was in 1955 when Wake Forest won the ACC’s last title.
But Miller’s watched just about everything else in the sports world change.
When she was growing up, sports was hamstrung with racial and gender barriers. It’s been a thrill for her to watch walls tumble and opportunities open.
When Miller was a sophomore at South Rowan, Thomas Berrien, an African-American student on an academic scholarship, was granted permission by football coach Jim Hickey to try out for UNC’s football team. It was the first small step.
That same year, Pam Hayes and Martha Leveritt jumped in the pool for Tulane’s swimming team and became the SEC’s first female intercollegiate athletes. Another small step.
“Times have definitely changed,” Miller said. “For women’s athletics, especially, to be where they are now has made my job extremely rewarding.”
Growing up in Landis, Miller was good at every sport she tried.
She swung a bat like one of the guys ó the really good guys ó but girls weren’t allowed to play Little League baseball.
She’d take batting practice with her male friends, but once the game started, she was relegated to being a spectator. She wasn’t happy.
South was almost new when Miller arrived as a sophomore in the fall of 1962. The school offered just two sports for girls. She was great at tennis, better in basketball.
Defense ruled in the 6-on-6 girls basketball that was played in the years after school consolidation. In the context of her era, Miller put up staggering numbers.
She scored more her junior and senior years, but her fondest memories are of the championship South won her sophomore season.
In 1962-63, South had two senior scorers, Ginny Smith and Sheila Brown. They made All-SPC along with Miller, and the Rebels tied Concord for the SPC crown with a 9-3 record.
South desperately needed to win its last two games. Miller hit a game-winner at Thomasville. Then she sparked a 43-41 win over Asheboro with 15 points.
“If I scored a lot, it’s probably because I shot a lot,” Miller said with a laugh. “I was young, and Ginny was so good. I remember that year because of the team’s success. I’ve always been more interested in teams than individual honors.”
Miller paced county scoring by a wide margin her junior season, when she scored 17.2 points a game for a team that averaged a modest 27.6.
Early that season, on Dec. 10, 1963, she scored 37 points against North Rowan to break Smith’s school record of 32. Miller still shares the record. In 1995, Jill Cress poured in 37 against R.J. Reynolds.
Her senior season, Miller scored 30 or more points four times. In her last game in the South gym, she said goodbye with 36 against Asheboro.
She averaged 20.6 points a game her senior year for a team that averaged 37.5. That’s still good for a share of the school record. Wanda Watkins scored 20.6 in 1980.
Miller went on to Appalachian State. She ruled tennis, volleyball and basketball intramurals and organized teams to play other schools, but she was early for intercollegiate athletics.
When she graduated from ASU in three years, she was voted the most athletic girl in the senior class of 1968.
She earned her masters in P.E. and Health at ASU a year later and went into teaching and coaching. The door was opening slowly for women’s athletics, and she became Appalachian’s first volleyball coach and a hoops assistant.
In 1974, she earned a doctorate at Middle Tennessee State. That led to a teaching and coaching position in Chapel Hill, where Title IX was creating growth in UNC women’s sports.
She piloted UNC’s volleyball and softball teams when the school had just two fulltime women’s coaches. She had great success in volleyball, winning a string of ACC championships.
“I learned things from my South coaches (Joan Campbell and Joyce Wilhelm),” Miller said. “They cared about you as a person, and I tried to do that with the athletes I coached.”
Miller loved working with athletes on a personal level, but she made the tough decision to shift to administration when she was offered the school’s athletic business management position in 1979.
That led to an assistant athletics director role, and that position evolved into her current post. She’s had different titles on her door, but essentially she’s been in charge of Olympic sports (once known as non-revenue sports) since 1985.
Miller reports for work in historic Carmichael Auditorium, so it’s hard not to think about the UNC legends she’s encountered since 1974 ó Michael Jordan, Mia Hamm, Julius Peppers, Lawrence Taylor, Davis Love III, B.J. Surhoff. She could go on for hours.
Her parents have passed away, but the old Miller homestead still stands, and she returns to Landis to see family members and old friends at Trinity Lutheran Church.
But it’s never easy to get away, not with 26 sports yelling for attention.
“I never thought I’d stay at Carolina this long,” Miller said. “But no opportunity has ever come along that I thought could possibly be any better.” n
Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senior Tar Heels Delegate Jerry Shelby represented Rowan County at the N. C. Senior Tar Heel Legislature meeting June 12-13... read more