ANNA — We’ve all witnessed it at a high school sports event: a young athlete fails to get up after a play on the football gridiron, another takes a big fall on the hard wood of a basketball court, a baseball takes a bad hop into a player’s face. As the crowd looks on, a team staff member races to the where the athlete lies and examines the situation, offering immediate care or calling for medical personnel. The person making that judgment, in most all cases, is the school’s Certified Athletic Trainer.
For folks in Anna, that person is Terry Miller — and he’s been doing it for 37 years.
The Coyotes and Lady Coyotes have enjoyed Miller’s services for seven of those 37 years so far. He arrived from Sherman in 2010 after a 27-year stint with the Bearcats and early-career years in Iowa and his home state of Minnesota.
Athletic trainer duties involve being present for practices and home sporting events, managing treatment plans for athletes and overseeing the school’s training room. “Athletic trainers are not medical doctors,” Miller says. “We suspect or assume a type of injury. We do not diagnose an injury… We usually are the people that do the immediate care of the injury… A lot of strains and sprains can be taken care of in the training room, but parents can take their athlete to the doctor anytime, and we go with what the doctor says.”
Seeing the light
Miller is originally from the small, southwest Minnesota town of Worthington, eight miles from the Iowa border. He has known what he wanted to be since he was an eighth-grader, having been introduced to athletic training as a career in a home room-type class at school. “They had a coach that taught it,” Miller says, “and I started getting interested in it.”
About that same time, Miller and a friend attended the National Junior College Wrestling tournament, held in Worthington each year, and asked to tour the training room afterward. The trainer there was quite helpful and sent them home with loads of reading material. “That evening,” Miller says, “I was reading all these catalogs and stuff and my mom goes, ‘It’s time to turn off the lights.’” In reply, he stated he’d decided to become an athletic trainer. Mom’s answer? “That’s nice. Turn out the lights.”
Miller would make good on his proclamation, landing an athletic-trainer internship with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings while attending then-Mankato State University in Mankato, Minnesota, the team’s training-camp home. Miller says he planned to continue with the Vikings after college before learning that the head trainer would accept only unmarried assistants. “When I announced that I was getting married, he said, ‘It’s been nice working with you.’ He wanted you to be 120-percent committed to the Vikings — which was crazy because he was married and had about eight kids.”
Knocking on doors
That’s when Miller took the trainer position at a Catholic school in Iowa for two years, followed by one year at a Minneapolis college preparatory school. Holding down two other jobs at both stops, Miller says he began to look southward. “When I was going to college, Texas was the mecca for athletic training jobs.”
His first stop in Texas was Wichita Falls, where he says he literally knocked on athletic directors’ doors, asking, “Hey, you need a trainer?” After getting a lead or two that way, he turned to Denison where he was told Sherman needed a trainer. That began Miller’s 1984-2010 run with the maroon-and-white.
“I enjoyed it,” Miller says. “It was, you know, big school, big time. I was there for the (head football coach) John Outlaw years. I was there for the G.A. Moore years. … Before I left, they said that I bled maroon.”
Alan Burton is Director of Communications for Southeastern Oklahoma State University and has authored several Texana-related books. For much of the time Miller was at Sherman, Burton worked closely with him as sports editor for the then-Sherman Democrat and later as Sherman Independent School District’s Community Relations Officer.
“When I think of Terry,” Burton says, “I think of his dedication to the job and his genuine caring and concern for the well-being of students. I believe he has always had his priorities in order — that being the safety and health of the students as they participate in a highly-competitive athletic environment.” Burton adds, “He was also a good source for providing sunflower seeds to a sportswriter in the dugout of a long baseball game.”
Anna Athletic Director Jason Heath was also at Sherman with Miller for a time. “Trainer Miller takes his job very seriously and does an outstanding job with our student athletes,” Heath says. “He is always the first one to arrive in the mornings and is constantly on the go.”
In 2010, Miller decided to make a change and landed the Anna job — a move that’s worked out well for him and his wife Connie. “Anna’s been wonderful,” Miller says. “The administration and the coaches I’ve worked with have been great. The kids have been great. I’ve really enjoyed my stay here. We’re growing, and we’re growing in a good way. The facilities here are fantastic.”
Anna’s training facility is well-appointed with whirlpools, ice machines, ultrasound, electric muscle stim, treatment tables and a fully-equipped weight room. “First, we want to get them (a) pain-free range of motion,” Miller says of an athlete’s recovery road. “Then we want to get them where they can accept the stress of their (sport-specific) situation.”
A trainer’s eye
At Mankato State, Miller majored in physical education and minored in athletic training before going on to earn his national and state certifications. He notes that, today, majors — even doctorates — are offered in athletic training/sports medicine.
As for game-day duties, Miller says, “You watch the games differently than anybody else. In football, I’m usually 10 yards down from the ball because you have the best angle… Usually, I never see a pass. I usually never see a punt. I don’t see the ball up in the air. I always make sure that 22 people get off the ground.”
Basketball, he says, is different. “Sometimes I don’t ‘watch’ a basketball game. I hear a basketball game.” Miller says he’s listening for the whistle — which means a stop in play — which could mean someone is down. He adds, “With basketball, because it’s such a small area and so many legs are flopping around, anything can happen.
“In baseball, I watch the ball, because the ball is what could really injure a person.”
Miller says he’s been around only one athlete who required helicopter evacuation: a JV football player from an opposing team at Coyote Stadium. The move was called in by EMTs mostly as a precaution and he turned out to be okay. Miller, though, has had his share of tense moments: a football quadriplegia situation, a wrist almost amputated by a hockey skate, giving CPR for a track-meet cardiac arrest, and a puck-strike to a hockey player’s wind pipe.
There have been humorous moments as well. One night as Miller intently watched the action at a football game, a player came off the field asking to have his wrist taped. Without looking away from the field, Miller reached back and began taping. “How’s that feel?” Miller asked. “Real good, coach,” came the reply, “but it’s the guy next to me that needs it.’”
Then there were the Sherman soccer games, when Miller also served as press box announcer and scorekeeper. “If somebody got hurt I would run down the stairs, jump over the wall and go to whoever got hurt,” he says. “Then I’d run back up the stairs and start the clock.” He figures that during most games he jumped the wall and onto the field three or four times.
In another Sherman tale, Heath recalls sitting around the coach’s office, spinning yarns with colleagues. Heath asked Miller what he thought his quarter-mile time would be now. Miller said he didn’t know and departed. When he returned, sweating and breathing heavily, he announced, “1 minute, 22 seconds.” He’d just run a quarter-mile in jeans and a polo shirt. “To me that pretty much sums up Trainer Miller,” Heath says. “If he doesn’t know the answer to something, he will find it out for you.”
Miller says the most rewarding part of his job is working with “the kids.” He’s especially gratified to see some of them progress through the college ranks and on to the pros. “And they come back,” he says. “I had two of my athletes that were in the pros come back to some benefit and — they came over and thanked me. That meant a lot.”