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Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024
The Observer

SMC Softball: Belles mourn loss of coach

Saint Mary's lost a colleague, teacher, and coach Sunday night when assistant coach Don Miller died after a six-month battle with cancer.

Miller, 67, a mathematics professor who had been at the College since 1967, began working with the softball team during the 2000-2001 academic year. Current head coach Erin Sullivan was a freshman on the team at the time.

"I knew him as a player and then as a coach, and it was fantastic," she said.

Sullivan said he spent his early years with the team as a first-base coach and statistician.

Junior Katie Rashid said that Miller was a man of few words, but that the words he did say were powerful.

"He demanded perfection. He expected the best of us all the time," Rashid said.

The players all agreed that Miller seemed intimidating at times.

"He didn't just dish out compliments," senior McKenna Corrigan said. "You really appreciated when he would compliment you, because you knew ... that it was something you did that was really good."

Sullivan pointed out that this exterior masked the caring man beneath.

"He was a little gruff when you first got to know him, but he cared more than anyone," Sullivan said. "If you asked him for anything, he would always help you."

His care was evident through his actions both on and off the field.

Corrigan said Miller loved to throw batting practice, and wouldn't stop regardless of whether his arm was tired or if a ball hit him.

"He would always race out there," she said. "He loved to throw us trick pitches, even though they weren't really tricks. He had a lot of fun trying to get us."

Miller served as the faculty advisor for the team, helping them to keep up with their majors, grades and other scholastic matters. When he was unable to fulfill this role in the fall following his diagnosis, the players noticed the difference.

"For some of us, academics slipped a bit, and we realized that coach Miller was always on top of it. He knew if you weren't doing well, and he always got on you about education," said Corrigan.

Sullivan agreed that Miller always made sure the girls had their priorities straight, pushing "academics first, athletics second."

Miller showed his fun side during Christmas, when he regularly dressed up like Santa Claus, not only for the team but also for community events.

"He did this in like eight different places. He lived in this costume," Sullivan said.

Miller was unable to attend games and practices regularly in the spring due to his illness. Rashid said this gave a little extra motivation to the team, because they wanted to live up to his expectations.

"There's at least one time every practice when I think, 'Oh, this is what he used to do,'" she said.

Sophomore Sarah Montelongo summed up the love Miller had for his team.

"I think he really cared for us, like we were his granddaughters or something," she said. "I don't know - there was just that certain something."

The Belles play three doubleheaders this weekend beginning today, against Hope College, Adrian College, and North Central College. They plan to play well for Miller.

"He still expects the best out of us, and we have extra motivation knowing he's watching up there," sophomore Ashley Peterson said.