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The right kind of alpha male
Feb 17, 2014 - By Randy Tucker
That was Barry Miller, and every community needs a few like him.
The call came while I was doing what I always do on Saturday nights in the winter, putting the finishing touches on a half-dozen basketball game summaries and working diligently to spell the names of 100 to 150 kids correctly.
It was my friend and Shoshoni's legendary former coach, Harold Bailey, on the line. He had some bad news. Barry Miller had passed away.
The big man from Goshen County was one of those larger-than-life figures whose name is forever associated with a school and, sometimes, with a sport.
You could add Alfred Redman of Wyoming Indian, Ralph Winland of Lovell, Leroy Sinner of Wind River, the late Bill Strannigan and Mike Harris of Riverton and the Fullmer brothers, Dick and Jerry, of Lingle-Fort Laramie and Lusk, and Harold at Shoshoni to that esteemed group.
Barry and I became friends during my first year teaching and coaching at Lusk in the 1980-81 school year. We shared a common interest in bird hunting along with a fanaticism about high school sports.
Barry is the kind of man who, sadly, is missing in many schools today. The venerable coach with a wealth of knowledge is a rarity in the world of attorneys, helicopter parents and spoiled children that has eroded much of the integrity in prep sports.
Replacing the man or woman who establishes a program and stays for a generation or two are the youngsters, sometimes fresh out of college who coach one year, are fired, and then are replaced by another youngster in a never-ending stream.
In the animal kingdom, young male wolves and young bull elephants are the most destructive animals in their native biomes. When the alpha male is killed in the pack or herd, these youngsters are without the guidance, guile and experience of the older male. Carnage for both animal and environment ensues. The same is true of young coaches left to founder on their own.
Barry, along with the men mentioned above, was both an opposing coach and a mentor to me as a 23-year old. In the animal kingdom he was a stabilizing "alpha male" in the maelstrom of life.
In the fall of 1980 he what probably was his best football team ever for the Southeast Cyclones. The boys would take state in football, basketball and track that season. For a kid from Pavillion who didn't know where Lusk was until my initial job interview three months before, the old Texas Trail Conference was a challenge to face.
Barry ran the wishbone in those days, and aside from Fisher DeBerry and Barry Switzer, I doubt that anyone else ran it as fundamentally sound as Barry did. He had a team laden with stars that season, and the fastest one was Mike Johnson, his quarterback.
Jerry Fullmer gave me my first assignment as an assistant coach, to come up with a defense that would stop Barry's potent triple-option. My brainchild was a stunting 4-4 defense that always put two players in the flat to turn in the option.
Yes, it worked, but Barry saw what we were doing and killed us inside with the belly series. We lost 14-0, and Southeast cruised to the Class B state title.
Two years later I was in trouble with the administration in Lusk, and my days in the Texas Trail were nearing an end. I was the head track coach at Niobrara County those three years in Lusk, and Barry was always an excellent source of information and ideas.
He suggested I take my best kids to meets in western Nebraska to "humble them a little bit," as Barry used to say. The track in the Nebraska Panhandle was, and remains, exemplary and indeed it did bring cocky 17- and 18-year olds back to reality when they were routinely beaten by boys from the river bottom farms and Sand Hills.
The 1983 conference track meet in Cheyenne was a case in point. Lusk's principal scheduled baccalaureate for late Saturday afternoon. If you didn't attend, then you didn't get to walk with your class the next day, an obvious dig at me and the seniors on the team.
I had a 400-meter runner capable of taking state, but the finals were Saturday afternoon. Competing meant no graduation. There was no automatic qualifying in those days. You had to run the finals at regional, or you didn't go to Casper.
I asked meet officials if the boy could run alone early that morning, and they said it was against the rules.
Disgusted, I mentioned this to Barry. A few minutes later he persuaded them to allow it ,and the boy was seeded third from our meet. Barry's physical presence and infectious grin worked every time.
I spoke with Barry every year at state track, where he and longtime friend Bruce Sinner would set up camp on the south end of Harry Geldien Stadium, and occasionally I saw him at state basketball.
I'm glad I was able to call Barry my friend. More importantly, we should all be thankful for his positive influence on thousands of young people.
Every community needs a Barry Miller. He will be sorely missed.
Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retired educator.