The unfortunate reality of all good things — that everyone knows about but tries not to address — is that they must come to a close.
And for the 14-year coaching tenure of Eric Miller at the helm of the cross-country program at Christian Heritage Academy (CHA), that time is now. Miller informed his team of the decision after his middle school boys team clinched first place honors at the last on-campus meet of the season on Oct. 24.
“This has probably been the inevitable end of our move to Madison [NC] 3 years ago,” Miller said of the decision. “It’s just a function of the distance and my age, but not my heart. As I told a parent, this was a decision my head had to make against the wishes of my heart.”
Miller’s success was the kind of success every coach dreams about having at the beginning of any coaching juncture. With much help from Faith Christian School’s cross-country head coach, Connie Fintel, Miller gained a handful of interested runners in 2003, but that number eventually tapered off only a year or two later.
But as the interest and allure of a cross-country team grew, more runners went out on a limb and decided to join the team. By the program’s fourth year, the necessary foundation was built for the team to gain Virginia Association of Christian Athletics (VACA) accreditation as a conference sport. It reaped reward that first year — a middle school conference title. The Knights would go on to win three consecutive more conference titles, and thus, the “Miller Method” was born.
The last aspect of the system — success — is never guaranteed, but eventually, Miller’s cross-country team gained that, too.
By the 2011-12 XC season, that foundation had created a culture and one that continued to produce. But in that season — the first of which CHA hosted a state meet — Parkway Christian stole the high school title out from under Miller and his team, and that “did not sit well with me,” Miller added. “We had a mission to win it back.”
The 2012-13 season was “the most talented team” Miller ever assembled. Led by Timmy Moyer (’14) and Zhenya Andersen (’15), the pair, along with a solid supporting cast, carried the Knights all the way to the VACA state meet. CHA finished with top honors, edging Faith Christian by only a couple of points, at Blue Ridge Christian School.
“Of course lifting that trophy was probably my favorite moment,” Miller said of his coaching career.
As fate would have it, Miller’s last event — the State Meet — was held at Faith Christian Oct. 28.
Historically known as one of the toughest courses in the VACA, CHA placed sixth in the middle school boys race and seventh in the varsity boys as the only two groups meeting the necessary threshold of runners. Highlighting the finishers was junior Matthew Bowden, who finished 10th overall at 24:20.36 and fellow junior, Ferguson Boone, finishing in 19th place with a time of 24:59.81.
A link for the full results can be found here.
If emotions were the only things the team was trying to combat, the Knights would’ve been a little more successful. In actuality, there were more impediments to success than promoters. Whether that be the variability of XC teams traveling from different regions of the VACA, or the nursing of different injuries and sicknesses on the team — many factors played into the meet that Miller had confident expectations for prior to the opening gun.
“But everyone gave it their all in spite of those hindrances, knowing it was my last meet, and I appreciate that,” he said, despite the finish. “And Matthew Bowden coming to fill out our squad for this last meet was special to me also.”
The emotions hit their peak at the race’s close, where Faith Christian’s head coach, Tracey Minnix, spoke some closing remarks regarding the coaching stint of Miller. Also in attendance was Miller’s wife, Jeanette, in support of her husband’s final event.
For those who are concerned of not having Miller’s presence at cross-country events— don’t worry, he will still be helping out in any way possible during the upcoming seasons, stating, “I may not be coaching, but I’ll be the XC program’s biggest fan!”
So, on behalf of the greater Knight family and all those who have witnessed or been under your tutelage, we thank and bid you a fond adieu, Coach Miller.
“I never considered myself a coach. I was just a teacher who liked to run, who knew sports would help me make connections with kids that would pay off in our classroom relationships,” he said in closing. ” And I believe that it did.”