A picture is worth a thousand words.
No better description of the full-page photo that appears on page 118 of the 1968 Andrew Lewis High School annual, The Pioneer.
Head basketball coach Dick Miley is being carried off the court by his varsity players, including Steve Mullins and Will Graves. Mullins has both of his arms wrapped solidly around Miley’s knee; Graves is hoisting Miley’s left arm skyward. And Miley, clad in a dark suit, white shirt and thin necktie, the typical fashion du jour for basketball coaches in the 60’s, is flashing the biggest smile immaginable. He was on the top of the mountain. And, deservedly so.
Moments earier, the Wolverines had won the holy grail of high school basketball, the VHSL Class 1-A state championship with a thrilling 67-66 win over George Washington of Alexandria at U-Hall, the home court of The University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
Miley passed away on September 22 at age 85. He had been in declining health for several years. After learning of Miley’s passing last week it immediately made me reach for that 1968 yearbook sitting among four from my days at Andrew Lewis.
Those pages brought back memories and plenty of smiles from a guy who had the unique option, due to Roanoke City’s annexation of my parents home in Roanoke County, of choosing between Cave Spring, Patrick Henry and Andrew Lewis to begin my high school career entering the eighth grade. Lewis got the nod because of their solid reputation in sports, although I found out quickly when I arrived that they already had some VERY talented athletes in the house.
I knew Dick Miley well. My health and phys-ed teacher who taught me the parts of the eye, how to avoid athletes foot and the rationale of having to run cross country in the fall in order to play basketball in the winter and be on the golf team in the spring.
He gave me a chance to play basketball in the ninth grade for a coach named “Boom-Boom” Bower, although he certainly realized from the beginning he didn’t have Gale Goodrich or Bill Bradley on his hands.
Miley was a Rockingham County native who graduated from Dayton High Schoool in 1953 and had gone on to star as a player at Bridgewater College near Harrisonburg. He came to the Roanoke Valley, becoming the new head basketball coach at Andrew Lewis in the mid-60s. After retiring from coaching, he continued as an administrator in the Roanoke County School System, including being the principal at Bent Mountain Elementary and assistant principals at both Northside and Cave Spring Junior Highs.
It had been a textbook run run by Andrew Lewis in 1968, but in hindsight reflected the successful coaching talent of Miley, along with a group of guys who displayed depth, gritty determination, teamwork and composure. Names that are now etched in Andrew Lewis basketball lore; McCray, Hammersley, Willard, Givens, Mullins, Trammell, Genheimer, Walthall, Hough, Hamm, Graves, Johnson, Welch and Cecil. Yes, Larry Cecil; the guy who put the final validation stamp on the championship when he gathered a loose ball in the lane in the final seconds and somehow coaxed a rim-hanger to fall as the buzzer sounded.
It literally turned Salem, its fans and student body into a frenzy of celebration that lasted for days. I was sophomore that year and as the yearbook noted, Coach Miley’s promise in a pre-Charlottesville pep assembly in the AL gym that this game would be a unique and truly unforgettable experience had surely come true.
The team had finished with a 17-1 record in the regular season with the only loss a 52-48 setback to Hampton in midseason. They won the Western District with a perfect 12-0 record that included sweeps of both regular season games against Patrick Henry, William Fleming, Jefferson, G.W. Danville, Halifax County and periennial power E.C. Glass.
Miley had the team focused on teamwork, with an emphasise on getrting the ball to big-man David McCray. The guards were smart ballhandlers and heads-up scrappy play, a trademark of Miley’s game plan, more than made up for a lack of size. The Wolverines biggest asset was their depth, which allowed Miley to substitute freely without concern of a hiccup while using his bench.
In the Western District tournament Lewis easily defeated Patrick Henry in the opening round before losing to Glass in overtime in the final. However, both the Wolverines and Hilltoppers had advanced to the Regional tournament in Bristol, so Lewis was still in the hunt.
Miley’s squad crushed Marion in the Regional semis and ended E.C. Glass’ season with a 44-41 win over the Hilltoppers that punched the Wolverine’s ticket to Charlottesville for the State 1-A Final-4. In the State semifinal Lewis ran out to a 50-29 lead against Hopewell and held on down the stretch to knock off the Central Region champs 58-56. Andrew Lewis was now in the finals of the state’s most prestigious tournament, a feat not accomplished by a Salem team in 50 years, when a team from the old Salem High won the State Championship three years in a row. Next up was G.W., the upset winner over prohibitive favotrite Maury in the other bracket.
Lewis led 32-31 at halftime, but the ultra-tall Presidents had gotten three fouls each on McCray and one of AL’s most celebrated athletes of all-time, Charlie Hammersley. Miley adjusted and went to Ken Johnson and playmakers John Givens and Frankie Hough simultaneously, a rarity in the regular season. The strategy paid dividends as the Wolverines went up by 11 in the third quarter.
But, the Presidents got hot, their shots started to fall and a short jumper with twelve seconds left put G.W. up 66-65. Denton Willard called time out and 14 Lewis players huddled around Coach Miley for the final call. Willard brought the ball upcourt and was forced to shoot by a pressing G.W. defense. Willard’s shot fell to the side and the ball was slapped out of Hammersley’s grasp. Cecil gathered in the loose ball in the ensuing scramble with four seconds left and his desperation putback somehow cleared the five President trees defending. The ball took several peeks into the net before finally falling through.
Andrew Lewis was suddenly and someehow Number-One.
Willard, the tournament’s most valuable player and one of several players who attended Miley’s memorial service on Saturday afternoon, talked about playing for the incomparable coach.
“The thing I remember most about Coach Miley is he was so far ahead of his time. He knew techniques of the game that few coaches practiced. I was later associated with college coaches who didn’t come close to what he knew. He taught the step- forward-step-back jumper, how to defend the baseline and how to defend on a 3-on-1 fast break. I’ll never forget a close game against Beaver, West Virginia that year where I got caught trying to defend a 3-on-1 break. I used Coach Miley’s technique for that situation and the Beaver player literally took the bait and handed me the ball.”
After the championship in 1968, Miley’s health classes took a definite turn towards basketball. My class, which alternated days with phys-ed, quickly gave way from parts of the eye or ears to a reel-to-reel projector where Coach loved to replay the film of the championship game. The final 60 seconds were regularly shown 5-10 times in rapid succession.
My last time with Coach Miley was about 10 years ago at a meeting of the Roanoke Valley Sports Club where we sat together at a table with a group of coaches and former ODAC Commissioner Dan Wooldridge. Miley was proudly wearing his championship ring and we talked about one of his best players ever, Hal Johnston, who had graduated from Lewis in 1967. Johnston went on to captain Roanoke College to a national championship in 1972 under Maroon head coach Charlie Moir.
I asked Miley how many points Johnston, a prolific shooter from long-range at the time, would have scored if the three-point shot had been in the game in those days.
Without hesitation he answered, “They’d still be trying to add them up.”
I kidded Coach about all those showings of the championship game in health class and he lamented the reel had somehow disappeared years ago and he never had any luck tracking it down.
And one guy at the table asked me what I remembered most about Coach Miley’s basketball prowess. I looked at Coach and answered, “Coach Miley had an amazing ability for assessing basketball talent. From day-1 he told me I stunk at dribbling, defense and shooting on the baseline.” Miley howled. You can’t hide facts.
Miley is survived by daughter Kim Brennan, son Rick Miley, sister Ethel Bentch, former wife Elaine Craun Newton, sister-in-law Christine Miley, along with six grandchildren, twelve great-grandchildren and ten nieces and nephews.
Miley’s long assiciation with education, regardless of being on the court, in the classroom or as an administrator, resulted in him being a mentor to many who became a better person because of his wisdom.
There’s no doubt Dick Miley is sitting back in Heaven with that game tape back in his possession. And, smiling every time Larry Cecil’s shot drops through the net.