MYERSTOWN – Sara Miller is a girl making her way in a boys’ world.
But do you know who else she is? She’s her father’s daughter.
Miller is not the first female to play football in Lebanon County, and she’s certainly not the first student-athlete to play the scholastic sport her father coaches. But she may very well be the first daughter of a local head coach to play football.
Miller, a ninth-grader on the Elco Raiders’ freshman football squad, is the daughter of Elco head coach Bob Miller. It certainly is a unique situation, but not necessarily because of the football connection, but because of their unique individual personalities.
“I know it’s a unique situation,” said Bob Miller. “But to me, her, the guys on the team and the coaches, it’s not. She’s been around our locker room for years. It feels normal to us. Maybe a lot of parents don’t want their kids playing football, but to me, it’s normal.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty unique,” said Sara Miller. “I like football a lot. I like being able to hit people and being with the guys.”
Sara Miller is a quarterback and safety on Elco’s freshman team. Bob Miller is in his ninth season as the head coach of the Raiders’ varsity squad.
He took over the program when Sara was just discovering what sports and football are all about. She grew up around the game, and in some ways, it’s all she ever knew.
“I like the way my teammates treat me,” said Sara Miller. “I fit in well. We joke around a lot, and it’s like normal. I really wouldn’t change anything about it. I think it’s really hard to play football, but it would be even harder if I didn’t have teammates who didn’t support a girl playing.
“It kind of comes off as a boys’ sport because it’s male-dominated,” continued Miller. “I think some girls definitely don’t want to be hit. But I think some are a little interested and would like to play.”
“(Eldest daughter) Emily and Sara are both three-sport athletes,” said Bob Miller. “They’ve literally have been raised in the locker room. They’ve always been around sports. It’s given them that sports mentality. I think that’s what sparked her interest.”
Sara initially went out for football two years ago as a seventh-grader.
Her dad didn’t directly affect her decision to play – she’s very much her own person, someone who is in charge of making her own decisions. But there’s little question that he did affect it indirectly, just because of who he is and what he does.
“I didn’t even know she signed up,” said Bob Miller. “Someone came to me and told me that there was a girl who had signed up for football. When we moved here, she had mentioned it to me. Hopefully, when I first found out about it, I was supportive. If my kids have a passion, I want them to follow it.
“I’m very thankful of the teammates she has and the parental support we have received,” added Miller. “For her to be accepted like she has been, we’re very grateful. When she told me she signed up, my thought was that she was going to be a wide receiver. But she said, ‘No, I want to be a quarterback.'”
“I always grew up around my dad’s practices,” said Sara Miller. “It just became a really good option for me. It was pretty natural. I think that affected my decision to play a little bit, because every day I’d be at practice or on the sidelines. He would talk to me, and he was teaching me from Day One.”
A coach’s kid wanting to be a quarterback? Imagine that.
Should Sara Miller continue to play football into her sophomore year, she would become a member of Elco’s varsity and JV teams. As part of his responsibilities as the head man, Bob Miller directly works with the Raider quarterbacks and calls the offensive plays during games.
“I’ll have to think about, but I think I do want to continue playing,” said Sara Miller. “It would be pretty cool being coached by my dad. Not that many people get that chance. But I’ll get treated like everybody else, not like the coach’s daughter.”
“I haven’t thought that much about it,” said Bob Miller. “But having coached Emily before will help. We have two coaches on the team – Skeeter Thomas and Bob Williams – who have coached their sons. I think they’ve shown me how to be a coach and a dad at the same time. I think it’s something we’ll have to work on together next year.”
There exists an undeniable and unbreakable bond between fathers and daughters. It’s a bond that can conjure up deep emotions.
In some ways, it is a head coach’s job to channel emotions in a positive manner, to set an example, as well as the tone for his team.
“I’m a pretty emotional guy,” said Bob Miller. “I don’t divide the emotions. I think there is a father side to it. There’s a lot of pride involved, but I try not to be too proud. I think the one unique thing about it is that Sara will let me know. Sometimes she’ll say, ‘Just turn the coaching thing off, and just be a dad for a little bit’.
“When I watch Sara play, I try to remove myself as a coach and a parent, and I try to enjoy their moment on the field,” Miller continued. “Because I want them to enjoy it. As a father there’s this sense of pride because I know how hard she worked in the off-season.”
“He’s a pretty good coach,” said Sara Miller. “He helps all of his kids the same. He gets to know you as a person, and that goes beyond football. He gives life lessons too.”
But Sara and Bob Miller’s special daughter-father, player-coach relationship is also rooted in objectivity, honesty and tough love. They’ve developed an understanding that allows them to decipher the fine difference between criticism and positive reinforcement.
“He’s really goofy,” said Sara Miller, of Bob, the father. “He likes to mess around and joke around. He always has fun stuff to say.”
“It comes down to work ethic,” said Bob Miller. “It was neat to see her become part of the group. She’s a leader sometimes. To see her having fun, being a leader and being a hard worker, that’s the first thing you look for as a coach. We run the option, and as a quarterback, she has good footwork. But I think if she wants to continue her football career, she needs to continue to get stronger.
“Growing up, Sara was almost a stubborn kid,” continued Miller. “She doesn’t want you to do things for her. She wants to learn them herself. She’s that self-driven. She has that do-things-my-way mentality. She’s very quiet, but when she’s with her friends, she’s very social.”
In that way, the apple of his eye didn’t fall too far from the tree.