by Shelley Ouellette
“When you think of Seminole State softball, you think of Courtney Miller.” – John Scarpino, director of athletics at Seminole State College
Mayor of Lake Mary declares May 1 Courtney Miller Day in honor of Seminole State’s longtime softball coach
When Seminole State College (SSC) head softball coach Courtney Miller moved to Lake Mary from Winter Springs five years ago, she never dreamed the city would name a day in her honor. But, this spring, Mayor David Mealor of Lake Mary did just that, declaring May 1 Courtney Miller Day in recognition of her coaching achievements and her impressive 800 career wins.
“Whereas, on February 21, 2014, Courtney Miller reached her 800-win milestone, defeating Hillsborough Community College by a score of 7-1,” Mayor Mealor read, “now therefore, through the authority vested in me as mayor of the City of Lake Mary, Florida, I, David J. Mealor, do hereby proclaim Thursday, May 1, 2014, as Courtney Miller Day in the City of Lake Mary.”
A native of Jasper, Missouri, and a graduate of Missouri State University, Courtney started the Seminole State fast-pitch softball program in 1994, following a seven-year stint at St. Cloud University in Minnesota, where she served as a fast-pitch softball coach and completed her master’s degree in physical education.
“I decided to leave Minnesota to get out of the cold,” says Courtney. “At the same time, Florida’s junior college system was transitioning its softball program from slow-pitch to fast-pitch, so it was the perfect opportunity for me to make the move.”
Now in her 20th season as the SSC Raiders’ head coach, Courtney oversees a nationally recognized program that can boast the 2012 Florida Region VIII State Tournament title, an eighth-place finish at the 2012 NJCAA National (College World Series) Tournament, and 14 consecutive post-season appearances in the state tournament.
And, while game wins and championship titles are important, Courtney, who also serves as an SSC professor and academic advisor, says her players’ success in the classroom is equally as significant.
“The most important lessons I took away from Courtney’s leadership were: hard work pays off, punctuality is important and appreciated, show respect, be responsible for your actions and belongings, and be accountable for what you say and do – true life lessons,” says Ashley (Bitzer) Sprague, who played for Courtney during the 2003 and 2004 seasons. “But, perhaps the most important was the emphasis Courtney put on academics over athletics. She would always explain that your body can fail at any minute, but no one can take away your education.”
Over the years, Courtney’s players have earned All-Conference and All-State academic honors, and 72 of them achieved Academic All-America status. In 2012, the NJCAA ranked Courtney’s Raiders eighth in the nation academically.
“I’m proud of our wins, but the academic recognition proves that student-athletes can succeed in the classroom and on the field, and that’s not an easy feat,” Courtney says. “More than 98 percent of my players graduate, and many have gone on to become lawyers, engineers, educators, and police officers. That says a lot about the program we’ve built over the past 20 years.”
That program also includes Courtney’s longtime volunteer assistant coaches Bill Fields and Jack Bitzer, whose two daughters played softball at Lake Mary High School and Seminole State.
“Without Bill and Jack, Seminole State softball would never have reached the level of success that it has,” Courtney says. “I can think of very few people who would give of their time and talents the way they have – it speaks volumes about their dedication to our players, team, and school.”
Looking toward the future, Courtney says it will be tough to top the “Courtney Miller Day” experience, but she plans to continue coaching as long as she’s still having fun and making a positive contribution to the Seminole State softball program.
“If I’m fortunate enough to make it to 1,000 wins, that would be a nice way to mark the end of a very gratifying career,” she says.
Photo: Mayor David Mealor of Lake Mary presents the Courtney Miller Day proclamation to Courtney.