N-W family been around team for 50 years
By David Yarger
Families come and go through the high school ranks, but at Niagara-Wheatfield High School, there’s one last name that has stuck around for quite some time: Miller.
Don, Steve and Cam Miller all currently have roles with the Falcons basketball team – Don and Steve as coaches, and Cam as a senior forward on the roster.
Don is currently in his 50th year with the basketball team and served as the team’s head coach following an 18-year run as the JV coach. Don retired from coaching in 1996 and teaching in 2006, but has stuck around to assist the team. At every Falcons basketball game, Don can be found near the end of the bench and always ready to chime in advice when necessary.
Following Don’s retirement as head coach, Steve was able to step right in to replace his father as head coach. Steve is now an assistant to Erik O’Bryan on the varsity squad.
Steve said stepping into his fathers’ shoes was quite a surreal feeling.
“I had just gotten out of college … and was looking for a teaching job and I ended up substituting and I was fortunate enough to substitute at Niagara-Wheatfield,” Steve said. “So I could work for a couple years as an assistant for my dad and Joe Casale. Then I got a teaching job that allowed me – out in Pembroke – to go and become a head coach for a couple years. After my dad retired, I was fortunate enough to get hired at Wheatfield and the basketball position was wide-open. So it was nice to slide into a position where I had spent a lot of time as a little kid being a ball boy and things like that and working as an assistant.”
Cam, Steve’s son, is a three-sport athlete at N-W and, as a child, Steve said he would come to practices and games and help the team in any way possible (water boy, ball boy, etc.). Steve added that he was the same way Cam was as a child and at the majority of the practices and games.
With dad and grandpa at every practice and game, Cam said it’s nice knowing they’re always there to support him.
“I like it, because they can tell me when we’re not at basketball like what I need to work on and stuff and it’s just a nice support there that I’ll always have and count on,” Cam said. “I think it’s really cool, because ever since I was 5 or 6 years old, I would always come to all of their practices, all of their games. My grandpa would always be there, my dad. It’s just cool like the experiences I’ve had from my grandpa and my dad being there.”
Cam also admitted it’s surprising how quick his time at Wheatfield has gone, but he said he intends to savor each and every moment left.
After winning a Section VI title early in his coaching career as an assistant with varsity, Don said he has enjoyed every moment he’s endured at N-W.
“I enjoyed being a teacher most of all,” Don said. He then discussed his time coaching and said. “I was very fortunate, because I worked for Doc Masotti and he gave me full reign and he hardly ever took a sophomore up. And then when I became the varsity coach, Joe Casale was my JV coach; and Joe was a student of mine and he was one of my favorite players and I thought we worked pretty well together. Looking back on it, Doc and Joe were both better offensive coaches than I was, so I tried to work a little hard on defense to balance the ticket a little bit.”
With his father at every game and always there for him, Steve said having Don there makes life a little easier, and he’s always the go to guy.
“It’s been fantastic, because basically anything and everything that I would encounter as a coach he’s encountered,” Steve said. “So (it’s) the old cliché where he’s forgotten more than I know. Coming into the position, I was familiar with the school. I always wanted to get a teaching job here. So, being a teacher and a coach here, and having my dad come to practice and games every day – it’s great.”
Knowing the Miller last name has made a mark on the program was also a neat feeling to Don and Steve.
“What I’m thrilled at is, we recently had a reunion with some of the former players, and I’m just amazed that (they) start mentioning things from over 40 years ago as if it happened yesterday and I’m just proud of the fact that there’s a tradition here that the kids still remember,” Don said.
“I have so many memories from when I was a little kid being a ball boy and growing up watching the program. Then, to be able to have the opportunity to keep teaching and coaching, and now that I’ve been here a long time, I’m starting to get kids of the kids that I’ve had and it’s kind of neat to see that come full circle along with all the kids I’ve coached that have gone into coaching,” Steve said.
The 2018-19 season is also a refreshing one for Don and Steve with it being Cam’s last season. Both agreed it’s been a fun ride watching him and they will certainly savor the moment.
“It’s amazing. First, physically, he doesn’t look like he did in ninth grade,” Don remarked with a laugh. “Each year, he just progresses and he’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen. His future is going to be successful, whatever he does.”
Steve said, “I’m proud of him, because watching him when he was little reminded (myself of) me when I was a kid. He would come and would fill water bottles, he’d do whatever we needed at practice and, all his life, he just wanted to be a Falcons. So for him to be able to come to the school that I teach and coach at and to watch him play, whether it’d be volleyball, basketball or track, I’m really proud of him.”