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Cyndy Miller retires as St. Helens AD

St. Helens has the tools, potential to become a force once again


   St. Helens students cheer during a volleyball game last November. Cyndy Miller, who has stepped down as St. Helens Athletics Director, said this years' senior class had especially strong school spirit. Legacies are often hard build and even harder to maintain, but for Cyndy Miller, who has officially retired as the Athletic Director at St. Helens High School, there are high hopes that her four years of progress will be built upon for years to come.

Sportsmanship has been one of the top priorities through her tenure as the Lions' top dog, stemming from a rash of ejections that Miller said may have tarnished the image of the school.

“I think when we kind of had a reputation for being poor sports – ejections, red cards – I think that's really cleaned up,” said Miller, who retires after 30 years in St. Helens. “My first year, I had to go to a class because we had five ejections that year. That was one of the things I wanted to kind of improve was our image in the league, and I think that happened.”

Miller said they've cut the number down to just a pair through the 18 boys and girls sports seasons this past school year. The milestone of the improvements, though, came in mid-November during the OSAA volleyball championship tournament.

The Lions were knocked from contention early on, but even during the St. Helens loss, the massive contingent of students cheered for teams on both courts. Once the Lions' game had finished, the students crossed to the other end of the gym at Liberty High School to join the student section for a school in a completely different division. Led by Corey West and a group of his fellow seniors, the Lions caught the eye of the OSAA officials and for their show of positive support, St. Helens was awarded with the sportsmanship trophy.

“We had a really good class this year, the 2014 [graduates]. They're really positive when they come to games... they show good sportsmanship, they were just more innovated in school activities,” said Miller. “I think a lot of it had to do with the class, but I think a lot of it has to do with the environment that we've tried to create, too. Yeah, we got seventh place at the state tournament, but that sportsmanship state trophy was as good. It shows where we're trying to go.”

Miller hopes it's something the underclassmen will remember in the fall when school sports begin anew as a fresh tradition. Over the last few years, Miller said, struggles in athletics have allowed several of the traditions at St. Helens High School to be lost.

“When things are going your way... things are always good. You've got good traditions, you've got good support,” said Miller. “When we went into a different league and we had struggles, I think some of our community support waned in those years. I think student traditions waned. At my school, when we had a pep assembly, we sang the school song, we had the school fight song... we always sang those. I don't think I've heard that more than once, at any assembly.”

The solution isn't exactly in black and white, and it won't be a simple, quick fix. Miller pointed out the successes the school had in spring sports – softball semifinalists, third place in doubles competition for girls' tennis, second place in league and a berth in the state championships for boys' golf – might pave the way for future successes.

“That's how we're going to create the tradition and build the pride back up, is that willingness to fight and to stay in it,” said Miller.

A high learning curve

Matt Morgan, who will take over for Miller heading into the fall sports seasons, has as much experience as Miller did when she started in the position as athletic director four years ago: none. And none in the sense that neither Miller or Morgan had ever stepped beyond teaching and coaching in their careers.

For Miller, and she said Morgan's experience is likely to be similar, the initial plunge was a difficult one.

“I think the first year was just the job and the immensity of it all,” she said. “I was [at the office] pretty much every weekend trying to learn, trying to read up on the OSAA policies and NWOC policies. Just getting a feel for the job. It was a high learning curve that year. As someone said, it's pretty much straight up from here, and it was.”

The next year was a little easier, once she had her feet underneath her. Still, balancing teaching, coaching junior varsity softball and managing the entire athletic department was never easy. Living, working and investing in the community definitely served as a leg up, but Morgan, who will come to St. Helens from Burns won't have those same luxuries. Miller didn't mince words in advice she said she would had given to Morgan.

“You’re learning curve's gonna be straight up this year, but don't hesitate to ask for help, ask questions. Ask the people who can give you the most help,” Miller said. “One thing I've stressed is that our community is very supportive when it comes to athletics. We have a huge volunteer base, and I will be giving him all that contact information.”

The boosters and community have been extremely active, helping to renovate countless athletic facilities and offering volunteers for nearly every position, including the clock and scoreboard operators, announcers and those who run the concession stands. Miller said the community support will be a major asset for Morgan, who will have several big issues to tackle in his first few weeks on the job.

Headlining that list is the hiring of five coaches for the 2014-2015 season. The head boys' soccer and cross country coaching positions are the main priority, and should be filled “within the next week,” according to Miller.

“I was going to hire, but then we felt it would be best if the new AD could hire, learn the process and maybe get some people in that he feels, through the process, that he would like to see on the coaching staff since he's going to be overseeing them,” said Miller.

Finding people who are able to both coach and invest in the community as a teacher, volunteer or simply a member of the south county area isn't an easy task, and was one of the few regrets Miller said she has after her four years of service. She remembers nearly all of her coaches being teachers during her high school years, but now the number has fallen to around fifty percent.

The job is a tough one, to be fair, said Miller. It's about far more than coaching on game days and running practice. Coaches are expected to run offseason training, youth camps and fundraise as well, helping to supplement their own programs as well as open opportunities for the programs to expand. Take into account that coaches don't make much for the amount of work they put in, and it's easy to see why finding a solid individual with the skills and drive to head a high school sports program is like fishing a needle out of a haystack.

“When you add up the hours worked and then the money, I bet you're making less than a buck an hour,” said Miller. “If you were a babysitter and you're getting three or four bucks an hour for every kid, and then you look at football, you're out there coaching 40 football players. Even babysitting wages, you'd be getting 120 bucks an hour. Yeah, not happening.”

While she will be stepping down from teaching and working as the schools' athletic director, Miller said she's not finished with the St. Helens area. Returning as the junior varsity softball coach is still in the cards, as well as possibly accepting a position as the middle school volleyball coach. Wherever she ends up, Miller says she plans to continue investing in the community. It's been a constant question with a simple, but consistent answer.

“I'm not going anywhere, I'm sticking around, I'm not moving,” said Miller. “I'll still be involved.”