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Friday December 9th

Beth Miller quietly worked to help the rise of women's athletics for decades

<p>Beth Miller posing with Rameses, the mascot of UNC Athletics, in the home of former fencing head coach Ron Miller.&nbsp;</p>
<p>Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications.</p>
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Beth Miller posing with Rameses, the mascot of UNC Athletics, in the home of former fencing head coach Ron Miller. 

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications.

Before Beth Miller was given the Women Leaders in College Sports Lifetime Achievement Award, and before she was the highest-ranking female athletic administrator at UNC, she was a full-time assistant professor in the health and physical education department (now known as the exercise and sports science department).

It was there that she started her 40-plus year UNC career that ended back in 2015, one in which she would help oversee UNC-Chapel Hill's full transition to Title IX compliance for women's athletics and become the supervisor for all of UNC Olympic sports. 

But in those early days of 1974 when she first became a Tar Heel, she was juggling it all: professor, head coach of the volleyball team and, eventually, UNC athletics business manager. 

"My position was actually as a full-time assistant professor, and then I was assigned to assistant coach in two sports, and then I became head coach, but I was still a full-time assistant professor in the physical education department," Miller said. "And across the country, it was pretty much that way. Women's athletics were really just getting started."

In the beginning, all of women's athletics was under the health and physical education department, not the athletics department. And even though Title IX was passed in 1972, schools across the country, including UNC, were slow to comply. When Miller became the head volleyball coach, there were no scholarships for athletes and very little funding for equipment. 

"We had uniforms that we wore during the fall during the volleyball season, and when basketball started up, they would wear the same uniforms that volleyball had," Miller said. "Today, you look at the agreement that the athletic department of the University has with Nike, they've got three or four uniforms and all the gear they could possibly use." 

Despite the conditions, Miller remembers UNC women's athletics as being among the top programs in North Carolina schools at the time. Because there were no scholarships, schools that had physical education programs or coaching programs attracted the best female athletes. 

Schools like ECU, Appalachian State and UNC Greensboro were the powerhouses in women's sports at the time. UNC was right there with them. The volleyball team won four consecutive ACC titles under Miller, and made five postseason tournament appearances. 

"We were doing well," Miller said. "And as time moved on and we put more emphasis into it at Carolina, we had scholarships and were able to fund women's athletics to the level that we became one of the leaders."

Overseeing big change

Miller became the athletics department's business manager in 1979, when she was just one of a very limited number of women in athletics administration. She oversaw all of UNC's Olympic sports programs starting in 1985, 26 teams in total, before cutting down to 13 teams in the last years of her career. 

She was given the official title of "senior woman administrator" in 1981, the first year it was officially created. The title does not mean Miller was in charge of all women's athletics, just that she was the most senior woman in the administration — an important distinction. 

"The NCAA created that title to try to get more universities to have women in administrative roles," Miller said. "I think it worked, because in the governing body you had the president and chancellors, you had the faculty athletics rep and the athletic director, and now we've got the senior woman administrator." 

It was that same year, 1981, when UNC began to transition its women's sports programs to full NCAA status.

This meant not only creating scholarships for female athletes, but also starting to convert the head coaches of female teams into full-time employees. Many, like Hall of Fame field hockey coach Karen Shelton, were part-time when they were first brought on. Shelton remembers the days when funding was few and far between. 

"(Miller) helped foster all that through," Shelton said of implementing Title IX at UNC. "She was a coach, too, back when I was a young coach, and we used to drive the vans, we did everything. You know how far women's athletics has come, she would fight for us. She was terrific." 

The biggest issue for UNC during the transition was finding the money — scholarships and full-time employees were expensive, so full Title IX compliance didn't happen immediately. 

"I saw that we really need to advocate for the women's sports to get them to try to narrow the gap between the funding for the men's sports and the women's sports," Miller said. 

"Where I had opportunities, I would promote that," she continued. "I would try to speak on the behalf of women's sports and at budget time try to advocate for increasing budgets … whatever could be done at that time to enhance the women's sports." 

Look at the results

In the years since she retired and in the years to come, it will be difficult to quantify Beth Miller's impact on UNC. There are no awards in her name honoring excellence, no statues or Miller stadiums to tell her story now that she's retired. 

Even the coaches who worked with her struggle to find the exact words to describe her and her time. Shelton stressed how loyal and hardworking Miller was during their time together. Legendary women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance was just glad he had an administrator who didn't throttle him.

"I know managing me, with my lack of respect for paperwork and deadlines, was incredibly difficult," Dorrance said. "And fortunately, she had other coaches like Joe Sagula who always crossed the T's and dotted the I's." 

If her personal direct impact is hard to ascertain, it's worth looking at what was accomplished during her time to get a sense of how much she did behind the scenes. 

Today, hundreds of people come to women's soccer or field hockey games held in state-of-the-art venues. Carmichael Arena was packed to watch the women's basketball team go the distance with Louisville this past season. Signs advertising women's athletics are placed all over Chapel Hill's campus, and in many of the stores along Franklin Street. 

"Early on, I think we went on the premise of trying to get people to at least come see a game," Miller said. "Come see a women's basketball game. It's not the same as men's, but it's fun to watch." 

The early days for attendance were rough, like many other aspects of women's athletics at the time. But over the years, UNC and the Chapel Hill community have been rewarded with excellence. 

During Miller's tenure, the Tar Heels won 22 national championships in women's soccer, six in field hockey and one in women's basketball in 1994. 

"I think (her legacy is) the legacy of the teams that have had so much success," Dorrance said. "I think she's a part of all that because she was the one helping us behind the scenes to have larger budgets and to develop our facilities. She was our voice in the room. 

And it must have been a powerful voice because look at the strength of the women's teams on this campus." 


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