A man who was an integral part of North Wilkes High School athletics for longer than many could recall died Dec. 17.
Leonard “Nathan” Miller, jack of all trades in the North Wilkes Athletic Department, died after a brief illness at Mission Hospital in Asheville. He was 48.
North Wilkes High Principal David Johnson said Miller’s dedicated, volunteer service made a positive impact on thousands of people, both those playing for and against Viking teams. “He will be missed by so many people.”
Johnson said Miller knew the ins and outs of North Wilkes athletics better than any coach who ever put on the Viking blue.
“Every coach that has coached a Viking team over the last 30 years has a story about Nathan that will put a smile on your face. A number of coaches would say they didn’t know how they got everything accomplished without Nathan.
“Fans knew to ask Nathan if they had a question or needed something when they attended a game,” said Johnson.
Miller was familiar to anyone who regularly attended Viking athletic events. He manned the clock, kept scores and other stats, reported scores to media, worked the gate, sold concessions, lined fields, help prepare for and cleaned up after games and much more — and usually with a smile.
He started out as a manager of the football, basketball, wrestling, track and other teams at North Wilkes after becoming a student there in the late 1980s. After graduating, he continued working as a volunteer for the athletics department with encouragement from Earl T. Eller, North Wilkes athletic director for 32 years and first Viking head football coach.
Miller became thoroughly versed in North Wilkes athletics under Eller’s tutelage.
“I’m not sure if Earl took care of Nathan or if Nathan took care of Earl, but Earl took a liking to Nathan that was special,” said Jeff Peal of Taylorsville, teacher and coach at North Wilkes High from 1986 to 1999.
Peal said Eller and Miller shared a full, lifetime commitment to the school. “Nathan loved North High — including its people, events and culture — and embraced it all.”
He said Miller was one of a kind as a high school freshman in 1989 and remained so. “What a joy to work with over the years and what a great man he became. He was the ultimate Viking through and through. His blood was royal blue. I, for one, will never forget him.”
Peal and others said something should be established as a memorial honoring Miller’s legacy.
Randy Joines of North Wilkesboro, who worked closely with Miller while coaching at North Wilkes from 1989 to 2009, said Eller cared for Miller like a son and Miller was Eller’s right hand man for events and other things at school. Eller died in 2018.
“Nathan was the kind of person they make movies about; sometimes in the movies, people are shown to be the kind of people we all hope to be. Nathan was this kind of person in real life,” said Joines.
“The world — and especially the community of Hays — was a better place because of Nathan…. His loyalty, his generosity, his heart felt devotion to the athletic programs at North showed his true Viking Spirit.”
Joines said Miller often helped him during his years coaching North Wilkes basketball and other sports and as athletic director. “He came early, stayed late and continued to be my friend even when I left North Wilkes for Bunker Hill (High School) in 2009.”
“Nathan’s kind spirit and infectious smile were felt by everyone in the community and in our school. He was known and loved by the custodians, office staff, teachers, coaches, central office personnel and the superintendents who have served our county.”
Joines said Miller set an example of service and loyalty for students and everyone else.
Miller’s absence will be felt in the community, by North Wilkes and even opposing coaches, athletes and officials when high school sports to return to something more normal, he added. “He will be greatly missed. I was lucky to have Nathan as my co-worker, and I was blessed to call him my friend.”