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Sunday, Jun. 16, 2019
Jack Miller time is all the time, on the go
by Randy Pascal

“I don’t have the time to put in to be a competitive coach – I want to do other things.”

A non-stop bundle of 68 year young energy, Jack Miller never ever stops doing other things. And for that, local high school gymnasts dating back well more than twenty years will be forever grateful.

A partner with Sudbury Sports Hall of Famer Lisa Kivinen in the very successful enterprise that is the Sudbury GymZone, Miller was recently recognized for his extensive involvement in gymnastics, presented with the Dr Gene Sutton Special Achievement Award.

Attending the Gymnastics Ontario hosted gala with family and friends, Miller would enjoy a wonderful weekend – before immediately returning to work, last week, in Sudbury. In fact, our interview interrupted his on-going efforts in building a new ultra healthy mini café in the New Sudbury home of the Laurels, his comfort level with construction equaled by his willingness to work with and build literally hundreds of young gymnasts.

If high school athletes at the now-defunct Levack High School and the still thriving Marymount Academy owe a debt of gratitude to Jack Miller, then the multi-faceted former miner, unofficial engineering technician, current mediator and all-around handyman owes a debt of gratitude to his old stomping grounds in Prince Edward County.

That is really where this story all began.

Wellington Public School had been the high school,” recalled the youngest of six children in the Miller clan. “When I went there, they had moved the high school to Picton, but they had left all of the gymnastics stuff behind. Our phys-ed teacher loved baseball, and tried to figure out what to do with us in gymnastics.”

Both athletic endeavours would become key to the life that Miller has lived. Moving from grade eight to his freshman year at the secondary level, the all-around athlete looked forward to the evolution of his gymnastics background, both from an individual and a team point of view.

“Unfortunately, none of the coaches knew gymnastics,” he explained. “Our head of phys-ed was fantastic, and when he came in, he gave myself and a buddy the gymnastics cycle (of the curriculum) and said, “don’t let anybody get hurt”. So that was my first coaching, in grade nine.”

While there was no denying his love of the sport, the end product often left something to be desired. “We put together a team in high school and went and competed,” said Miller. “We were so bad, we never went back. We really didn’t know what we were doing.” Not that this ever threatened to extinguish his interest in gymnastics.

In 1968, Miller and family would make their way to Sudbury, with jobs in the local mines apparently quite abundant in those days. A brief return to Toronto would be quickly followed by a second trek north, in the early seventies, and the chance for gymnastics to jump back into the mix, once again.

“In 1975, we’re living in Onaping, my first wife and our two kids, and a neighbour is running a little gymnastics club, having trouble finding a coach,” said Miller. “I had just gone steady days, gone from underground to engineering, and I was available. Somehow, over the course of the next two years, there was only me left.”

Still, the Onaping Falls Gymnastics Club would grow, catering to at least as many members as the Sudbury Laurels in the early days. It wasn’t long before those eager young athletes were reaching high school age.

“The older girls I had taught were in high school at Levack,” stated Miller. “By then, we had quite a few kids in the gym, so I made them a deal. I said I would coach the high school team, but they (the high school girls) had to coach the younger club kids, because I couldn’t do both. They said yes.”

Throughout the decade that was the 1980’s, the Levack Cubs gymnastics team were a force to be reckoned with. Right through until the school closed in 1991, Miller was front and centre. Assisting with high school teams at Chelmsford, Rayside and even rival College Notre-Dame Alouettes over the years, the local mentor would be equally as busy with a new branch of his club team, opening in Dowling.

By the turn of the millennium, there were more conquests to be undertaken. A growing friendship with Kivinen had led to the pair chatting, at length, about a GymZone move from the site that is now Ecole secondaire Sacre Coeur to their current home on Gemmell Street. “I drew up a floor plan, we doodled, I helped clean it up, we moved in and got everything in that we want to fit it,” said Miller.

“I helped with that transition and we decided to partner.” Less one think that jumping full tilt into a new partnership be enough to keep him busy, the father of four (two from each marriage) re-immersed himself in the high school scene as daughter Meghan began her studies at Marymount. It’s a role he holds to this day, long after her graduation.

“I am fortunate with most high school teams,” he said humbly. “They will do well just because of my passion. The first year, I had no idea what I was doing, but boy, those kids worked.” A tireless work ethic, apparently, can become quite infectious. Miller clearly sets the tone.

It’s an attribute that has helped him become quite adept with construction materials in his hands. “I owe a lot of that to mining, you learn so much in mining. My mom and dad never owned, always rented, and we always took good care of their places. My dad was a pretty good mechanic, no license, a hammer and chisel mechanic who could fix anything, so I guess I picked it up from there.”

But as he celebrated his recognition via a prestigious gymnastics award, it was the building blocks that he would help put in place for the girls under his watch that would mean the most to Miller. “The thing I am proudest about is the whole high school component,” he said. “About a third of the whole current provincial high school gymnastics numbers are in Sudbury. I would like to think that a lot of that was me, Bob Simon, and back in the day, Jean Duffus and others, letting us do what we did.”

Needless to say, Jack Miller has done a lot.

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