Dick Miley: Coach, Mentor and State Basketball Champion
A picture is better than a thousand words.
No better description of the full-page photo that appears on page 118 of Andrew Lewis High School’s 1968 annual newspaper, The Pioneer.
Basketball head coach Dick Miley is taken off the field by his college players including Steve Mullins and Will Graves. Mullins has both of his arms wrapped securely around Miley’s knee; Graves lifts Miley’s left arm skyward. And Miley, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt, and skinny tie, the typical fashion of the day for basketball coaches in the ’60s, wears the biggest smile imaginable. He was on top of the mountain. And, rightly so.
Moments earlier, the Wolverines had won the holy grail of high school basketball, the VHSL Class 1-A State Championship with a thrilling 67-66 victory over George Washington of Alexandria at U-Hall, the ground of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville.
Miley died on September 22 at the age of 85. His health had been declining for several years. After learning of Miley’s passing last week, it immediately made me reach that 1968 yearbook sitting among four of my days at Andrew Lewis’s.
These pages brought back memories and many smiles of a guy who had the sole option, due to Roanoke City’s annexation of my parents’ house in Roanoke County, to choose between Cave Spring, Patrick Henry and Andrew Lewis to start my high school career entering eighth grade. Lewis got the nod because of their solid reputation in the sport, although I soon found out when I arrived that they already had VERY talented athletes in the house.
I knew Dick Miley well. My health and physical education teacher who taught me the parts of the eye, how to avoid athlete’s foot and the logic of having to run cross country in the fall to play basketball in the winter and do part of the golf team in the spring.
He gave me the chance to play ninth grade basketball for a coach named “Boom-Boom” Bower, although he certainly realized early on that he didn’t have Gale Goodrich or Bill Bradley in the hands.
Miley was from Rockingham County, graduated from Dayton High School in 1953 and then played at Bridgewater College near Harrisonburg. He came to the Roanoke Valley, becoming Andrew Lewis’ new head basketball coach in the mid-1960s. After retiring from coaching, he continued as an administrator in the system. Roanoke County School, most notably as Principal of Bent Mountain Elementary School and Deputy Principal of Northside and Cave Spring High Schools.
It was a textbook run by Andrew Lewis in 1968, but in hindsight it reflected Miley’s talent as a successful coach, as well as a group of guys who displayed depth, determination, teamwork. and in cold blood. Names that are now engraved in the tradition of Andrew Lewis basketball; 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 seal on the championship when he picked up a loose ball in the lane in the dying seconds and sort of coaxed a rim hanger to fall as the bells rang.
It literally turned Salem, his fans, and his students into a celebratory frenzy that lasted for days. I was in sophomore that year and as the yearbook states, Coach Miley promised at a pre-Charlottesville cheer assembly in the AL gym that this game would be an experience. unique and truly unforgettable had surely come true.
The team finished 17-1 in the regular season with only a 52-48 loss to Hampton mid-season. They won the West District with a perfect 12-0 record that included sweeps from both regular season games against Patrick Henry, William Fleming, Jefferson, GW Danville, Halifax County and perennial powerhouse EC Glass. .
Miley focused the team on teamwork, with an emphasis on handing the ball over to big man David McCray. The guards were clever ball handlers, and mind-blowing one-on-one play, a hallmark of Miley’s game plan, more than made up for the lack of size. The Wolverines’ greatest asset was their depth, which allowed Miley to substitute freely without worrying about a hiccup while using her bench.
In the Western District tournament, Lewis easily beat Patrick Henry in the first round before losing to Glass in overtime in the final. However, both Wolverines and Hilltoppers had qualified for the Bristol Regional Tournament, so Lewis was still on the hunt.
Miley’s team crushed Marion in the regional semifinals and ended EC Glass’s season with a 44-41 victory over the Hilltoppers that brought the Wolverine to Charlottesville for State 1-A Final-4. In the state semifinal, Lewis led 50-29 against Hopewell and held on to the end to take out the Central Region champions 58-56. Andrew Lewis was now in the final of the state’s most prestigious tournament, a feat that had not been accomplished by a Salem team for 50 years, when a team from former Salem High won the championship of the ‘State three years in a row. Then GW, the upset winner over prohibitive favorite Maury in the other category.
Lewis was leading 32-31 at halftime, but the super-tall presidents had each committed three fouls against McCray and one of AL’s most famous athletes of all time, Charlie Hammersley. Miley adjusted and went to Ken Johnson and playmakers John Givens and Frankie Hough simultaneously, a regular season rarity. The strategy paid off as the Wolverines rose 11 in the third quarter.
But, the Presidents got hot, their shots started falling and a short jumper with twelve seconds left put GW in place 66-65. Denton Willard called the time out and 14 Lewis players gathered around Coach Miley for the final call. Willard brought the ball up and was forced to shoot by a pressing defense from GW. Willard’s shot fell to the side and the ball was slapped out of Hammersley’s reach. Cecil rallied in the loose ball in the ensuing scrum with four seconds left and his desperation of desperation kind of wiped out all five presidential trees in defense. The ball threw several glances into the net before eventually falling through.
Andrew Lewis was suddenly and sort of number one.
Willard, the tournament’s MVP and one of many who attended Miley’s memorial service on Saturday afternoon, spoke of playing for the incomparable coach.
“The thing I remember the most about Coach Miley is that he was so ahead of his time. He knew playing techniques that few coaches practiced. I was then associated with college coaches who did not come close to what he knew. He taught the backstop jumper how to defend the baseline and how to defend himself on a quick 3-on-1 break. I will never forget a close game against Beaver, West Virginia this year- right there where I got caught trying to defend a 3 on 1 break. I used Coach Miley ‘s technique for this situation and player Beaver literally took a bite out of me and me. handed the ball over.
After the 1968 championship, Miley’s health classes took a definite turn towards basketball. My class, which alternated days and physical education, quickly gave way from parts of the eye or ears to a reel-to-reel projector where Coach liked to replay the championship game movie. The last 60 seconds were regularly broadcast 5 to 10 times in rapid succession.
My last time with Coach Miley was about 10 years ago at a Roanoke Valley Sports Club meeting where we sat together at a table with a group of coaches and the former commissioner of the ‘ODAC, Dan Wooldridge. Miley proudly wore her championship ring and we talked about one of her best players, Hal Johnston, graduated from Lewis in 1967. Johnston became captain of Roanoke College and won a national championship in 1972 under the leadership of the Maroon head coach Charlie Moir.
I asked Miley how many points Johnston, a prolific long-range shooter at the time, would have scored if the three-point shot had been in the game at the time.
Without hesitation, he replied, “They would always try to add them up. “
I joked with Coach about all of those health class championship game screenings and he lamented that the reel sort of disappeared years ago and he never had a chance to get it. to regain.
And a guy at the table asked me what I remembered the most about Coach Miley’s basketball prowess. I looked at Coach and replied, “Coach Miley had an incredible ability to assess basketball talent. From day one he told me I stank of dribbling, defense and shooting from the baseline. Miley screamed. You cannot hide the facts.
Miley is survived by daughter Kim Brennan, son Rick Miley, sister Ethel Bentch, ex-wife Elaine Craun Newton, sister-in-law Christine Miley, as well as six grandchildren, twelve great-grandchildren and ten nieces and nephews.
Miley’s long association with education, whether in the field, in the classroom, or as an administrator, has made him a mentor to many who have become a better person through his wisdom.
There is no doubt that Dick Miley is sitting in Heaven with this game tape in his possession. And smiling every time Larry Cecil’s shot goes through the net.