The University of North Carolina, an institution rich in both academic and athletic tradition, experienced many changes during the last forty plus years. Chancellors, faculty members and coaches have come and gone. Old buildings razed and new buildings erected. Yet there is one athletic program on campus still guided by the same strong hand that forged it. Today's visitors to Fetzer Gym can still hear the same booming voice that once echoed through Carmichael Auditorium and the old "tin can," where fencing classes first formed at Carolina.
Coach Ron Miller came to Carolina in 1967 as a physical education instructor. The Kentucky native, who grew up in Florida, brought knowledge of a sport virtually unknown to a southern campus bred on basketball and football. Not only did Miller impart that knowledge to countless students in physical education classes, he established and maintained the South's dominant fencing program.
Miller's encouragement and charismatic coaching style were enough to lure athletes to the fledgling program that offered no scholarships or campus fanfare. The requisite hard work and dedicated effort that Miller demanded, however, gave rise to a unique skill in athletes drawn to the speed and discipline of fencing.
Thirteen of Miller's students achieved All-American status. Four Carolina fencers were U.S. National Fencing Team members while two were Olympians. Yet Miller, the Collegiate Coach of the Year in 1983 and 1986, has never been one to track his teams' win-loss totals. Members of past and present Carolina fencing teams say they have learned through Coach Miller about what it takes to be a winner in life, not just about thrusts and ripostes.
Fencing is a sport that is inherently individual, but Miller's teams are close-knit crews. Drills and practice matches are expressly team-oriented. Carolina's fencers are schooled in a manner that encourages support among teammates who square off against each other during training. Special friendships invariably develop throughout Miller's squads during weeks of practice and hours of travel to distant matches.
Miller's inspirational dedication to his school, his sport and his teams has come to be recognized as impressive as that of another longtime Carolina icon.
Miller's influence on his fencing squads parallels that of legendary basketball coach Dean Smith's impact on former basketball players and coaches. Smith's October 9, 1997, retirement left Miller as the most tenured coach at Carolina.
The scene at Smith's retirement announcement, which featured former and current players overflowing with veneration, appreciation and gratitude, was repeated just nine days later in the same building at a tribute for Miller.
More than 140 former fencers, whose numbers included team members from nearly every squad since 1968, gathered at the Dean E. Smith Center on October 18, 1997, to celebrate and honor Miller's tenure.
Words like commitment, dedication and integrity, all uttered in same building for another coach so recently, were spoken in homage of Ron Miller. NCAA champion fencer, 1992 Olympic fencer and 1983 Carolina alumnus John Friedberg, in thanking Miller, called the Carolina program a "unique, special environment to learn in."
Friedberg and the other assembled alumni used the occasion to announce the formation of a new fencing association that will support Miller's fencing teams in the future. A fencing endowment fund will be used to improve Carolina's fencing facilities and equipment in the coming years.
Former fencers have not only contributed money to Miller's program, but many are still active in a sport that most had not encountered before they met Miller. Eight of Miller's former fencers have at one time led their own college fencing programs.
More than just a Tar Heel hero, fencers from across the region and the nation have benefited from Miller's talents through his involvement with the United States Fencing Association (USFA), the NCAA, the U.S. Olympic and World Fencing Teams and regional fencing clubs.
Miller served as a coach for the U.S. Junior World Team in 1981 and was also the coach for the Senior World Championship Team in 1983. The 1987 Junior Pan American Team was also coached by Miller. From 1985-95, he served as the director of the USFA's National Coaches College and from 1983-91 he was the director of the USFA's National Junior Elite Summer Programs. He is a two-time member of the NCAA's Fencing Committee and is a three-time NCAA Regional Committee Chair. Miller has been a USFA National Coaching Staff member since 1977.
Miller received his Bachelor of Science in Physical Education and Psychology from Florida State University in 1966. He received his Master's in Physical Education from Eastern Kentucky University in 1967. Miller earned his Doctorate in Phys. Ed, Higher Ed., Guidance and Psychology from Carolina in 1974. Coach Miller was also awarded a "Maitre d' Armes," in 1975.