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Hoover High School Athletic Director Myra Miles

September 2, 2012
By John Battle of Sports and Family Magazine







                                                           www.sportsandfamilymag.com

No one can remember if Myra Miles ever played with dolls and such as a child.  It wasn’t because they weren’t available, they were.  After all, she was a girl. Some aunt or grandparent must have bought or made her a doll to instill in her the art of nurturing.  After all, that’s what girls do. They play house, hold classes to teach their dolls the ABC’s, and they learn the skill of entertaining with little tea parties appropriately set with little tea cups and little tea saucers while passing around tea cakes while kindly saying “Please” and “Thank you” to their dolls and imaginary friends.

If she did, no one recalls.

Now, if little Myra Miles did have dolls, they probably would have been lined up nine against nine, half in a makeshift outfield scratched out in the yard, the other half, coached by friend Janet Hill, warming up to play offense, setting the stage for the world series of doll softball.

Myra Miles may be called many things; passive is not one of them.

Did anyone mind?

None that mattered.

"My parents are just fabulous,“  she says.  “All through infancy until now they have always been a tremendous support…they introduced me to a wide variety of activities, and they allowed me to pursue whatever sport or event I wanted.”

Miles took piano lessons, picked on a guitar, and even played the ukulele, as her parents tried to instill in their children the need to be well versed.

“My mom and dad coached me and my older brother,” she explains.  “My first softball team was the Angels, and my mother was the coach.”

Born and reared in Florence, she attended Mars Hill Bible School in elementary grades, Forrest Hills Middle School, and then Bradshaw High School (now Florence High School). At Bradshaw, Miles played basketball for one the pioneer’s in women’s sports, Coach Noona Kennard *, an inductee into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.

Miles relates, “She was one of those who was ahead of her time.  We did things then that teams do now, but not back then.  We did the full court press, and we got after everybody.  In the 1970’s, you didn’t see a lot of it in Alabama.  But in Tennessee, you saw more aggressive play (for girls), but Mrs. Kennard always found a way to put us in a position to win. We always were disappointed when we didn’t win, for we realized she was so knowledgeable and she always had us in a position to win and we felt like we were a failure when we didn’t.”

As a role model, Miles says of Coach Kennard, “She didn’t allow us not to strive to be our best all the time.  We had to make good grades, and if you made anything below a ‘C’ then you had to sit out (from the game) and you didn’t want to sit out.”

As an afterthought, Miles says, “And then you had to deal with it at home, too.”

Miles likens Coach Kennard as to having another mom. “She would make sure we did the right thing all the time, even off the court.”

As a disciplinarian, Miles admits, “Of course we didn’t always do the right thing. Like any other kid, I would get into trouble, every once in a while, [and] I dreaded more to see coach Kennard than I dreaded to see my own parents.”

“Every chewing out I got from her I deserved,” she says.  “Back then I thought she was crazy, but now, I know exactly what she was doing.”

Of her personal faith, Miles explains, “She was a tremendous person who had a tremendous faith in God, and though I have that church background from my parents, when you see your coach do that, when you see them walk it, it’s easier.  She was such a fabulous role model.”

When Miles was inducted into the Lauderdale County Sports Hall of Fame, Coach Kennard attended. And other than her family being present, Miles says that “Probably meant more to me than anything, because she was such an influence on my life.”

Life after high school, though, was challenging for Miles.

Her college career began in pre-dentistry at Fried Hardeman University.  Though doing well in the classroom, she decided that was not the professions for her. “I couldn’t imagine working in an office, looking down people’s mouths all day.  I wanted to try to make a difference with kids, somehow, some way, and being a dentist wasn’t that way.”

She only attended one year at Fried Hardeman, playing basketball.

“I don’t know what it was,” she relates.  “Maybe I was home sick, or that I was burned out because I started playing at such a young age.”

After that first year, she was uncertain as to what lied ahead. She knew what she wanted, just not how to get there.

Often, lives are characterized by a single mystical event, that when looked back upon, you sense a Divine intervention; some call it luck, simply because it had little to do with your efforts.

The door of opportunity is usually precipitated, not by happenstance, as is often the case when a person is volunteered for an unpleasant task, but by the known character of the individual; years spent cultivating the mind, body, and spirit through effort. 

So it was for Myra Miles.

Though in a transitional stage of life, she had prepared herself for what was next to come.

Coach Andrea (Andi) Jones needed a softball player for the University of North Alabama. Her only obstacle was finances – she didn’t have any scholarship money.  However, there was money in the budget to hire a tennis and volleyball manager. She remembered a good softball player who had played in the leagues around the state by the name of Myra Miles.

Approaching Miles, Coach Jones articulated the offer.

Miles thought to herself, Sure, how hard can that be.

For Miles, the mystical event had come that would define her professional life. She just didn’t know it.

As a manager, Miles learned to appreciate all positions under the title of Head Coach. Her duties included washing the teams clothes, driving the team van to events, and, as is written on most job descriptions, Any other duty as assigned.

The position made her “Appreciate, once I became a coach, the assistants, the managers, the ins and outs that a lot of people don’t know what it takes to run a program, because I had to do all that,“  she relates.

As to Coach Jones, Miles says, “She worked our tails off, and we were conference champions (South Gulf Conference).   Her motto was, ‘If you’re going to do something, do it the right way.’

Upon graduation from UNA, Coach Jones helped introduce Miles to her first coaching position at Haleyville High School, where the volleyball/basketball coaching positions had become available.  By Mile’s own admission, she got the job not necessarily by what she knew, but who she knew; the School Board president was one of her college suitemates father while at Freed Hardeman.

A great player, built upon from great character, honed by great coaches, there was an unexpected learning curve to becoming Coach.

“Right out of college, I thought I knew everything,” Coach Miles says. “I thought I was the gift to the world when it came to coaching, and I didn’t know anything.  It took me about two weeks to realize I did not have this figured out like I thought I did.”

Haleyville proved to be the perfect training ground to teach Coach Miles the means and ways of coaching on two fronts.  First, as a small town, there were little distractions outside of work and family activities.  From 1984-1989, she poured her heart and soul into the kids, devoting nearly all of her time studying, implementing, and improving her coaching skills.  Second, the town adopted the newly arrived Coach as their own.  Not having any family anywhere near Haleyville, families proved to be a tremendous support group for her.

Of the athletes, she says, “They were fabulous, and we had a lot of success but it had little to do with me.  They were tremendous kids, very athletic, who would do anything you asked them to. They would run through the wall, if asked.”

Then, opportunity came again to Coach Miles.

Coach Kennard was retiring from Bradshaw High School, and Coach Miles was offered her position.

After thinking it over, she concluded, “I’m not going to follow this legend.”

But she needed a better excuse.

Soon after, she got one.

While working a basketball camp at Hibbett Middle School, the principal of Brooks High School in Killen, Al (outside of Florence), Harlan Hill, the father of her child hood friend Janet, had taken notice of Coach Miles.

She relates that “…all of a sudden, Harlan Hill walked in there (the basketball arena), and he said, ‘I want you to work for me.’”

She said OK.

Never having a team, in any sport, with less than .500 winning percentage, Brooks High School proved to be a challenge to the developing yet spoiled coach.

“They were terrible,” she says of the athletes. “They didn’t even have uniforms that matched.” Though the parents were just involved in the program, the uniforms and their record just didn’t matter to them.

But it did to Coach Miles, and she was working harder than ever to correct it.

But after a while, for maybe the first time in her life, she was ready to convince herself that she was a failure – it was her fault.

One day, she walked into Principal Hills’ office, dejected and down on herself, complaining of her own lack of ability.

He said to her, “You are never going to win a Kentucky Derby with a bunch of mules.  You just keep working them hard, and it will happen.”

It did.

Uniforms were bought, junior varsity basketball and softball teams were developed, and within four years, they took home two championships in softball and became very competitive in basketball and volleyball. For Coach Miles, it was a great ten years.

Of her success, she says, “Every step of my career, I have been so fortunate to have administrative support, the parental support, and community support. And I know that is rare and I don’t take it for granted.  Though the parents would jump in and help with what needed to be done, they never tried to take over.”

Still today, she keeps up with people in Haleyville and at Brooks, and she swells with pride when they explain to her all the positive things happening.

Then, her phone rang.

The voice on the other end introduced himself as John Bricken, Athletic Director for St. James private school, Montgomery, AL.  He had called to offer her the head coaching position of the volleyball program and to help coach softball.

She said, “No.”

But John Bricken evidently doesn’t take no very well. He broke her down by the third phone call with an incentive:  Coach Miles would have an assistant for the volleyball program.

“That was unheard of in High School,” she explains.

She was sold.

“[It was a] great, great, great year,” she emphasizes. “One of the best years of my life; great teaching environment, great people there.  And again, I was just so lucky.”

Near the end of that first year, both her parents had health issued and she needed to move back home.  But as the state of Alabama was in proration, there were no jobs she knew of open.

Then her phone rang.

On the other end was Jerry Hill, son of Harlan Hill, head football coach and athletic director of Coffee High School, in Florence.  He told her the school was adding a teacher and they wanted to rebuild the softball program and her name was the first to be mentioned as a candidate.

She said, “Yes.”

Coach Miles explains it as “just the Lord’s way of opening a door for me because there [were] no jobs. This [was] another opportunity.”

In her four years as at Coffee High School, the softball program went .500 and made huge strides in improvement.  For Coach Miles, she felt better as a coach as far as what she was teaching and seeing the development of skill, because a lot of those children didn’t know the basics. 

But it didn’t start that way.

When she arrived, she muses, “We were going through some basic drills, such as bunt coverage.  This was fast pitch softball, and they didn’t know what bunt coverage was.”

In her disappointment, she thought she couldn’t deal with another program starting from scratch.

There are two things that Coach Myra Miles expects of herself and her players: not to quit, and plan to win.

So, she went to work.

Employing former players from Brooks High School, who were now in college, to assist in softball, and Blake Bauch, the softball coach at UNA, along with April Marsh (Murphy), head volleyball coach at Bob Jones, and another kid who was a really good pitcher, it all fell into place.

Then her phone rang.

Hoover High School lighted up on her phone.

She said to herself, I’m not sure if I know anybody in Hoover.

She picks up the receiver and Ron Swann, then Athletic Director of Hoover High, introduces himself.

“I’m calling you because I have had several people to give me your name and we are looking to hire another physical education teacher and to work with our softball program and probably volleyball,” he says in one sentence.

Her head spinning, Coach Miles thinks, Ron Swann, who in the world is this?

She asked if she could call back after thinking it over.

“Of course,” was the reply.

Think about this? She mulled over in her mind. You’re talking about going to Hoover.”

Retrospectively, she says, “You know, you hear about Hoover, and you dream this is a place you can’t get to as a coach.”

She called Swann back and a meeting was arranged between him, Miles and then principal, Mr. Godwin.

Though the meeting went well, Coach Miles says that upon returning home she was a nervous wreck.

“I was very intimidated by the size of the school.  And I never thought of myself as someone who could be intimidated, much less by a building. And mind you, there were no students in class when we met,” she says.

At 6:30AM, the next morning, her phone rang.

“Hey Myra, this is Gene Godwin.” He had a real high pitched voice, she relates.  “We want you to come work for us.”

She did.

One positive for Coach Miles is that going from class 4A and 5A schools to a class 6A, with over 2,000 students, and not knowing anyone, it forced her to get out and meet people.

Then in 2006, when the Athletic Director position became available, she applied.  To her own admission, she should not have been offered the job.  She had been at Hoover High for only three years, and there were more qualified candidates.

But for competitive Myra Miles, she wanted the job – if not now, then eventually.

Mr. Browning was tapped as the new AD, and as Coach Miles says, “He was the best choice…Mr. Browning was the right person.”

Coach Browning, knowing of Coach Miles intentions, took her under his wing and taught her the position. When he left, the administration asked Coach Miles if she would take the job as an interim. 

She said, “Why not.”

With little elaboration, Coach Miles said it was a tough year. But with the support of the school administration, coaches, faculty, and parents, the situation was righted.

As a woman in a man’s world, she credits the women who have gone before her, such as sideline personalities covering football, both in the NFL and college, who have helped pave the way for women to acquire head coaching positions, such as AD.

And she says that there were few, if any, challenges to her when she took the helm of Hoover sports.  If there were, “I never felt it,” she says, accrediting that positive atmosphere to the staff at Hoover who she had worked with for such a period of time.

As to her own legacy at Hoover, she says, “I would like to think that people perceive me as someone who likes to help and that I was fair: Myra can do this job for she will be fair to every program.”

She credits her own ease as administrator to first, Mr. Don Hulin, the principal, who “you couldn’t ask to work for a better man.” And second, to all other assistant t principals, who, in her words, are “Fabulous - they ask what they can do to help.”

She also appreciates the fellowship that continues with the coaching staff even in a position that could become very isolated.  Though she no longer misses coaching, she does miss the involvement with the athletes. It is important to Coach Miles to attend every sporting event she can attend.

“Once a coach, always a coach,“ she states with a sense of responsibility. Keeping that connection to the kids is very important to her.

Once asked if she missed coaching, she replied, “Not really.”  Her first two years away from coaching, she did. Now, she enjoys just watching the kids play.  And as to the coaches, she says, “You see them deal with other things that you don’t miss.”

As to her own practice of accountability within her administration, she says she learned it from her mentor, Harlan Hill, as he once said to her, “I’m going to support you maybe even when you mess up and you weren’t exactly right that one time, but I might not after that one time.”

In summation of her life’s work, Coach Miles says, “I get to go to work every day, and I try to make a difference in one person’s life in a positive way.”

She offers this advice to all kids: “Always do the right thing.”

She continues, “If you are always focusing and trying to do the right thing, you are not going to go wrong.”

A lot of kids struggle with that, she admits.  To help develop their character, she advises them to be involved in as many activities as possible.

“Every person you meet is going to have a direct influence on your life in either a positive or negative way,” she says.  “But you have to make that decision, as to which way it will go…and you are never going to grow as a person unless you subject yourself to that. “

There are several avenues to gain that experience, as she explains, “Getting into sports, or extracurricular activities, allows you to bond in every aspect of your life, because you are going to run up against some wonderful people.  And, and you are going to run up against some knuckleheads.  But at a young age, kids have to learn how to differentiate.”

Coach Miles says, “The opportunity to be successful starts early, and it is a positive thing for our community, because our city does such positive things to ensure that the youth programs have quality people involved in coaching.”

There was once a girl who had a dream that involved anything that didn’t have to do with dolls.

Now, an accomplished Coach and Athletic Director, she says “I feel very blessed as I am living the dream.”

Her name is Myra Miles.

 

*NOONA KENNARD –A graduate of Starkville High, Starkville, Miss, and Mississippi State, taught and coached twenty-one years at Bradshaw High where she was a pioneer in Alabama girl’s athletics. She produced seven championships, six runner-up finishes in volleyball, two titles in track, five in archery, three each in badminton and bowling, and produced an overall basketball record of 150-82. 

 

Photograph courtesy of Hoover High School

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