By KEVIN HARRIS
FLOYDS KNOBS —
Rick Miller has had plenty of memorable days in his 41 seasons as the Floyd Central High School boys’ tennis coach.
He remembers sharing coaches duties with Jim King, who also was the former New Albany golf coach, for the Highlanders’ inaugural campaign of 1973. Miller remembers the exact spot where he and former Floyd Central athletic director Les Wright dug holes for posts to hang the nets on the first courts at FCHS. Miller also remembers each time he led Floyd Central to its six appearances in the IHSAA State Finals.
On Monday at the Floyd Central courts, Miller had another memorable day in his Hall of Fame career.
The Highlanders defeated Madison in the first round of the Hoosier Hills Conference Tournament, 5-0. Floyd Central (5-8) will play in the tournament semifinals at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Jeffersonville, which defeated New Albany in Monday’s opening round 4-1.
But Monday’s victory was no ordinary victory for Miller.
The victory made Miller the all-time winningest boys’ tennis coach in Indiana high school history. Miller’s 663rd career win passed Hall of Famer Byron Buckley, who coached at Jennings County and Indianapolis North Central, for first-place on the all-time victories list.
Miller had plenty of people to thank after Monday’s record-breaking triumph.
“I couldn’t do this without my wife [Jennifer] letting me be able to do this and supporting me. I want to thank all the assistant coaches I’ve had, all the great players I’ve had and the families who’ve supported Floyd Central tennis,” said Miller, who also has coach the Floyd Central girls’ tennis program for 19 seasons. “I’m just thankful that I’ve had good enough help to be able to do this. I might be in a wheelchair, but at least I’m able to do it. I’m just so happy with what the results have been with so many championships and so many great teams.
“I’ve got to thank my principals and athletic directors in [former Floyd Central ADs] Les Wright and Bill Pierce and [current AD] Jeff Cerqueira. They let us coach and they don’t get in your way. They don’t look over your shoulder and trying to see what’s going on. They trust us to do the right things for the parents and the kids.”
Miller also thanked his assistant coach on the boys’ team, his son Brandon, and his current girls’ assistant James Markert. Miller credits his son for instructing several young players in the Floyd Central feeder system to prepare them for the high school ranks.
“Brandon is my assistant coach and I want to thank him for all he’s done,“ Rick Miller said. “He builds all of these little kids into players. He’s had most everyone of [Floyd Central’s current boys’ players] in clinics, camps and lessons. They all really respect him and look up to him.”
The elder Miller has built the Floyd Central boys’ program into one of the best in the state during his 41 seasons. He has guided the Highlanders to 29 sectional championships, 23 regional titles and 22 HHC crowns. Floyd Central was state runner-up in 1993 and finished third in the state finals five times.
Rick Miller has coached two individual state singles runner-up finishers in Josh Surowski in 2001 and Joseph Boesing in 2006. Also, he guided three Highlander doubles teams to runner-up placings in the state finals in 1992 (Brian Croft and Brandon Miller), 1995 (Ted Ford and Adam Peden) and 2011 (Drew Hussung and Jarret Oldham). He also coached Scott Croft, who earned the IHSAA Mental Attitude Award at the state finals in 1990.
Despite that success, Rick Miller takes more pride in developing great students and first-rate citizens than just honing them into solid tennis players.
“I’ve had a bunch of Academic All-State boys and girls and that’s hard to do,“ he said. “You’ve got to have big-time scores and credentials to do that. I’m just as proud of that [than his other accomplishments].
“[I enjoy seeing] kids grow. I enjoy seeing kids compete. I love practice and see what we need to work on. I love to coach during a match. It’s an honor to coach such great kids and great athletes.”
But Floyd Central’s route to success had some humble beginnings in 1973 as the team went winless that season. Rick Miller took some time on Monday to remember that season.
“We didn’t win a match our first year,” the Georgetown High School and Indiana State University graduate said. “We actually built a tennis team around one player in 1973. He was a guy who moved here from Kentucky when he was a sophomore and he was an outstanding player by the name of Billy Hofmeister. We started a team because of him.
“[School administrators] came to me and said, ‘Will you coach the boys’ tennis team?’ I said, ‘I can’t tell you that I’m a tennis coach, but I’ll sure work at it.”
Miller guided the program to its first winning record in 1976. The next season, the Highlanders reached the semistate for the first time and the rest has been history.
“We just kept building and building and building until we had enough kids to be competitive,” he said. “In ‘76, we had a winning season and we had a good season. In ‘77, we just clicked and went to the semistate. Ever since then, we’ve been rolling.”
The veteran Floyd Central coach says he does not think about retiring, and he plans on coaching for the foreseeable future. He has a good chance to become the all-time winningest Indiana high school tennis coach in the boys’ and girls’ ranks combined. Rick Miller needs 29 wins to pass former Silver Creek boys’ and girls’ tennis coach Mike Crabtree, who accumulated 961 victories in his career.
“As long as I have somebody who can help me coach and somebody I trust, I’ll stay with it. But I don’t think about retiring. It doesn’t cross my mind,” he said. “I’m not thinking about retiring. I’m thinking about how much improvement we need to do and what we need to work on in the offseason.
“I don’t think about the past too much, except that we’ve had great times. I’ve enjoyed all those guys and gals. It’s been a great experience for me.”
JEFF ADVANCES TO FACE HIGHLANDERS
Jeffersonville defeated rival New Albany 4-1 on Monday to advance to the second round of the Hoosier Hills Conference tournament, where the Red Devils will face Floyd Central on Wednesday.
The Devils got wins from Brock Winchell at No. 2 singles — 6-1, 6-7 (3-7), 6-3 over Alec Bates — and Connor Buntin at No. 3 singles — 6-3, 6-1 over Nathan Johnson — and they swept the doubles matches for the win.
Sam Coward and Jack Reilly beat Tanner Goller and Jake Kinnard 6-1, 6-1 at No. 1 double and Kooper Falkenstein and Justin Padgett beat Zach Daniel and Nick White 6-1, 6-4.
“New Albany is one of the better teams in the conference and I think our guys did a nice job of staying focused after the long day that we had on Saturday,” Jeff coach Mark Reilly said, referring to Saturday’s Jeff Classic.
Wednesday’s semifinal match between the Highlanders and Devils will be played at Jeffersonville.
HOOSIER HILLS CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
FLOYD CENTRAL 5, MADISON 0
At Floyd Central
No. 1 — Ryan Plunkett d. Kyle Sawley 6-1, 6-4.
No. 2 — Chris Boone d. Sam McIlvain 6-1, 6-2.
No. 3 — Duncan Bishop d. Cole Callahan 6-0, 6-0.
No. 1 — Jack Stoner-Harrison Davis d. Clark Vaughn-Noah Stookey 6-2, 6-2.
No. 2 — Alec Saxon-Austin Ivey d. Austin Brady-Ceaton Bowman 6-1, 6-1.
JEFFERSONVILLE 4, NEW ALBANY 1
No. 1 — Logan Charbonneau (N) d. Austin Hunt 6-4, 7-6 (7-5).
No. 2 — Brock Winchell (J) d. Alec Bates 6-1, 6-7 (3-7), 6-3.
No. 3 — Connor Buntin (J) d. Nathan Johnson 6-3, 6-1.
No. 1 — Sam Coward-Jack Reilly (J) d. Tanner Goller-Jack Kinnard 6-1, 6-1.
No. 2 — Kooper Falkenstein-Justin Padgett (J) d. Zach Daniel-Nick White 6-1, 6-4.