Jonestown’s Darryl Miller doesn’t sweat bullets. He hovers above them.
The 52-year-old avoided another close call at last weekend’s Lebanon County Track and Field Championships. He watched firsthand as his 33-year-old pole vault record survive another spring.
“Right place, right time – these days,” said Miller. “I dodged a bullet.”
Only two county records from the 1970’s still exist. Northern Lebanon’s Miller and Cedar Crest’s Dana Hollinger both set boys’ marks at the 1979 meet. Miller vaulted 14-7.25, and Hollinger cleared 6-6 in the high jump.
“I never expected it to last this long, that’s for sure,” Miller said. “It’s come under fire a few times over the years.”
His achievement appeared to be facing a 2013 inferno. He even received advanced warning from his old coach Jim Weaver.
“He’s reached that age where he’s comfortable with it being broken,” kidded Weaver. “It’s going to go sooner or later.”
Weaver called Miller prior to the meet to alert him about a bumper crop of local challengers.
“I told him if it does get broken, ‘Make sure you take a picture together,’ because I want that,” said Weaver, a fixture at county pits for the past 40 years.
Current NL junior Derek DiAngelis just missed the mark last Saturday, settling for gold at 14-3. Cedar Crest’s Daniel Neiswender and Lebanon’s Zac Norman took second and third as seniors, respectively.
“The Palmyra kid (Tim Moses) would have obliterated it if he was there,” admitted
Miller. “He had priorities to get seen on a national stage, and it just happened to fall on that same day.” Moses, a senior, scaled 15-9 last Saturday – at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia – meaning Miller’s measurement blooms again next April.
For his record’s test of time, Miller is the latest subject of the monthly Daily News’ feature, “Where Are They Now?,” which runs the first Monday of every month and takes a look back at the lives of former prominent athletes and coaches.
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Miller landed across the pond as an adopted child in 1969.
“My dad worked at a mill that used to get crated stuff with bamboo poles,” he said of his elementary years on a farm in north Jonestown. “I goofed around in the backyard jumping fences, bushes, whatever – I was young.”
As a sophomre at NL, he crossed paths with Weaver – a vertical jump guru at the scholastic and collegiate levels. He joined the Vikings’ track team and elevated an extra foot each grade.
“Weaver is the main reason; the man and teacher he is – he’s amazing,” gushed Miller. “He was on the same page as me. He knew I was into wrestling and gymnastics; and I played football and had good body awareness.”
Not everyone belongs on the runway, though.
“It always starts with the athletes first. If you don’t have athletes, it doesn’t matter,” explained his old coach. “It works when you have good athletes who are interested in putting in the extra time.”
But even practice doesn’t equal perfection. There is always an ‘X’ variable for success, according to Weaver.
“It’s funny. I’ve had great athletes, but they have no desire. If a kid tells me they have no desire to try it, I don’t push,” he said. “It takes a certain kind of personality – a little bit of a daredevil, the kids that like to skateboard, all those X Games things.
“That’s the personality type you have to have. People that don’t have it; I’m not going to fault them. Heaven knows we’re not all the
Miller experienced his fair share of up-and-downs during his varsity career.
“I’ve had a couple wrecks; it’s very scary,” he recounted. “I broke five poles, but I made it in the pit every time.”
He recalled a mishap from the 1978 Lancaster-Lebanon League Meet at J.P. McCaskey High School.
“It was misty, like rainy, and I got back on my pole. I couldn’t feel it and came up way short,” Miller said. “I went straight up and straight down — right down on my back.”
He almost came up short at the 14-7.25 county record, too.
“I blew off the (110 hurdle) finals to concentrate on my jumps,” said Miller. “I came in at 13-0 and hit the bar on my first two attempts. My third attempt, I actually brushed the bar and it wobbled. From that point, I took off the rest of the way.”
Two weeks after raising the county standard, Miller broke the District Three Class AA record at 14-7.75. He went on to work at General Electric for 17 years until the company closed its city plant. He’s currently employed by Ephrata-based American LaFrance Appraising Service, one of the oldest fire apparatus manufacturers in America.
“The last time I was goofing around, I popped out a 12-6 on my first jump,” Miller joked about his most recent attempt in the mid-90s. “If I’d lose about 10 pounds, I bet I could still knock one out.”
He spends his free time his wife of three years, Jennifer, an art teacher at NL. He can also be found at area track and field functions, where pole vaulting is rapidly growing in popularity.
His former coach also has a lot to do with that liftoff.
Weaver’s summer clinics – open to any student regardless of league or county – produced several state qualifiers last season and will undoubtedly keep spraying bullets at Miller.
“We have three pits now instead of one; more kids are getting more chances to jump,” Weaver boasted. “And it’s technical, but it’s very learnable. Coaches like Lebanon’s coach (Steve) Richards and Ken Fox from Annville have taken the time to take the notes, take the video and spend their summers with us. (County coaches) have become very competent pole vault coaches.”