Bill Miller remains the head baseball coach at Pleasure Ridge Park High School more than two months after he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
“Bill Miller is our baseball coach until he decides he doesn’t want to be,” PRP athletic director Nick Waddell said Saturday at what he called “a celebration of a baseball program so rich in tradition.”
Nearly 500 people, including many former players, attended the affair in PRP’s old gym.
“We set this up before we knew Bill had cancer,” Waddell said. “Since then, it has accelerated. It just shows you the respect a coach can have from his players and community.”
Miller, 66, is the winningest high school baseball coach in Kentucky history with a record of 1,068-284 in his 36 seasons as the Panthers’ coach. His teams have won five state championships – three in a row from 1994-96, plus 2008 and 2013 – and have been the state tournament runner-up four times. PRP also has 20 regional titles and 15 Final Four appearances.
Miller seemed to have plenty of energy as he went around the gym talking to as many people as he could.
“I hope to coach four or five more years,” he said. “That’s my plan, but when you’re my age you have to take it one step at a time.”
A little over two months ago Miller – who is retired as a teacher – said he was unloading two truckloads of sod and his back started hurting.
“I thought I had pulled a muscle, but it got worse overnight,” he said. “That’s when I found out I had a kidney stone.”
Unfortunately, that wasn’t all. A scan saw a growth in Miller’s lung “and a biopsy revealed I had cancer,” he said. “A PET scan revealed it was Stage 4 lung cancer.”
Both of Miller’s children – Megan, the softball coach at PRP, and Matt – support their father’s decision to remain as the Panthers’ coach.
“I think it’s great,” Megan said. “He needs to do it as long as he can. The longer the better. It keeps him young.”
Megan said her father has been undergoing “targeted therapy treatments” for two months.
Miller is only the second baseball coach PRP has had since the school opened in the late 1950s. Bill Waddell, Nick’s grandfather, coached the Panthers from 1958 to 1979 and had a 430-161 record before turning the reins over to Miller in 1980.
Miller’s continuing to coach “is the best thing for him,” Matt said. “There’s nothing else he’s wanted to do. He’s been fortunate to fight this thing so far. You can see the overwhelming support he’s had in how many people are here.”
Miller graduated from PRP in 1967, and among his well-wishers was an old teammate, Steve Tingle.
“I pitched and he caught,” Tingle said. “In football, I was the quarterback and he was the fullback.”
Among Miller’s ex-players on hand were Brad Burns and Scott Downs.
Burns, who graduated from PRP in 1995 and played college ball at Murray State, was master of ceremonies. He is now pastor at Elm Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Ky.
“Miller was a tough coach to play for, but I would have never wanted to play for anybody else,” Burns said.
Downs, the star left-handed pitcher with a wicked curveball, led PRP to the 1994 state crown. He pitched for the University of Kentucky before going into pro ball. Downs played 14 seasons with eight major league teams before retiring in 2014.
Asked how it was to play for Miller, Downs said: “He was hard on you and you had to have a thick skin, but he made me the player I was. Playing for PRP was like a family, and that’s what Miller wanted.”
Looking over the 48 round dinner tables filled with his admirers, the teary-eyed Miller remarked: “This is a testimonial to the PRP baseball family. There is a district or regional trophy on each of those tables, and that’s unbelievable, but it’s more than just about wins and losses. The players always wanted to have a family atmosphere and a love for each other, and that’s what PRP and this whole thing is about.”
Miller could have stepped down as coach when he found out he had cancer, but he didn’t.
“To me, I’ll know when it’s time to go,” he said.