Miller honored for work as an official

Shelby Miller with award.

  For 39 years, Shelby Miller has served as a football referee in Northeast Tennessee. This year he is recognized as the best in the field.
  Miller was recently selected as TSSAA Athletic District 1 Official of the Year 2003-'04 by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Board of Control.
  "You don't referee for the money," said Miller. "You have to because you like it and want to stay involved in sports."
  The annual A. F. Bridges award is given for displaying the high ideals of integrity and ethics and for the examples of citizenship and sportsmanship.
  These traits can be seen through Miller's insistence of fair play.
  "What you want to make sure is that neither team has an unfair advantage," said Miller. "You have to be able to block out emotions, the noise.
  "When it's packed like a Dobyns-Bennett versus Science Hill or Elizabethton at Happy Valley, you hear a roar. Those other games with only a few people in the stands, you hear more of what the fans are yelling."
  Miller was a basketball referee for 25 years before retiring in 1990. He continues to officiate football where his gridiron career consists of 25 first round games, several second round, quarterfinal and semifinal games.
  He was an official in three state football championships (1985, 1992 and 1995). Friday night, Miller will again be on the sidelines for playoff action.
  "This Friday, I go to work the semifinal game between Coalfield and Boyd-Buchanan," said Miller. "I don't know anyone from there, but it's as easy to work a game like that as one around here, where I know everyone."
  A graduate of Happy Valley High School, where he played basketball under the legendary Charlie Bayless, Miller gained a degree in business management from Tusculum College.
  Another legendary Happy Valley coach also influenced Miller's career.
  "John Treadway used to have a little place when he retired from coaching, and the referees would get together there," said Miller. "We would talk about the hard plays we had to call. You learn as much talking to the other referees as you do looking in the rulebook."
  On the personal side, Shelby and his wife Creola have been married for 35 years. They are the proud parents of two daughters, Amy and Wendy, and one granddaughter, Whitney.
  A member of the Gideons International, the Millers attend First Christian Church in Johnson City.
  He has long been a community leader, from his 34 years as an employee for Inland Container to his service as an Eagle Scout, president of the Elizabethton Lions and Shrine Clubs to being a member of the Carter County Chamber of Commerce.
  Elected to the Elizabethton City Council for two terms, he was Vice Mayor for two years.
  Despite his reputation for fair play, he has seen his share of tricky situations.
  "When I first started refereeing, Fall Branch one time had deputies escort us to the car," Miller recalled. "Same at a Church Hill-Ketron game. It's not as rowdy as it used to be.
  "At Johnson County one time, the police took us to the city limits and then a county car picked us up and took us to Butler."
  According to Miller, an official needs to be sure if a penalty is neccessary before stopping play.
  "The hardest thing officiating any sport is not to anticipate the call," said Miller. "Let the play develop before you blow the whistle.
  "You have to determine if the penalty has a bearing on the play. If it does, you need to call it. If it is obvious, you need to call it. If it doesn't have anything to do with the play, you don't need to call it."
  The other variable is that officials aren't neccessarily watching the same thing as fans.
  "We have certain assignments we're watching, not just watching the ball," said Miller. "You see things that the players, coaches and the people in the stands don't always see."
  Media coverage of professional and collegiate games has also made the role more challenging.
  "Coaches see stuff on tv," said Miller. "They think if they work the official, then next time they might get a call. That might work with a younger, inexperienced official. I don't think you can do that effectively with someone who has been doing this several years."
  The influence of the collegiate game can also be seen by the rules and the complexity of the game at the high school level.
  "The rules have changed a lot over the years," said Miller. "Football is a complicated sport. We used to work with three man-crews, then four. Now we have five and could really use six.
  "Early in my career, you might not see a pass the whole game. A game now might have 50 passes, plus you have the motion plays where the team is spread out. It's gotten more like college."
  Despite a multitude of changes, Miller uses common sense to keep things under control.
  "I had a ballgame the last game of the season where I had to tell a kid to keep his composure, keep his cool or he might miss a playoff game the next week," said Miller. "You can do a lot of preventive officiating.
  "If you see a player grab a jersey, you might warn him and tell him, 'Next time we are going to throw the flag.' I might tell a kid he's awful close to lining up offsides."
  To do a job this long and this well, you have to bring a passion to it.
  "It's a tough job sometimes when the players, coaches and fans are all jumping on you," admitted Miller. "When you look at our association, there aren't many people who have been there over 20 years. It's just like coaching -- you have to eat, sleep, breathe the stuff."