There are times as a journalist that you know you’ve got a great story.
They can practically write themselves; all you have to do as a writer is not screw it up. But a decent writer can make it something special.
It was 2005, and I was at the height of my career. I earned the right to brag a little bit on this one. I nailed it. It might have been the best thing I wrote in my time at the Herald-Press. It earned me the top sportswriting award from the Indiana Associated Press Managing Editors.
In this story, a Huntington North High School senior discus thrower, BreAnne Miller, was trying to qualify for state meet for the first time. Her coach was Dave Reeves, a legendary throwing coach who had trained a number of HNHS athletes, sent many to the state meet, and had two state champions in the discus.
But Reeves had died the summer before, and his last goal was to get Miller to the state finals. Reeves knew he wouldn’t live to complete the journey, so he put Miller’s training in the hands of one of his former throwers, Derek Dyer, who was volunteering as a coach while finishing his college studies to be a chiropractor. Dyer had finished second in the 1998 state meet in both the shot put and discus, earned the prestigious mental attitude award in the finals, and went to Notre Dame where he earned ALl-Big East honors.
Miller was model of the perfect student-athlete. She was an Academic All-State selection in basketball and had played on the Indiana Junior All-Star basketball team.
It was a beautiful story, culminating with Dyer taking over Miller’s training, and with Miller fulfilling Reeves’ last wish by qualifying for the state meet. We even had a fantastic photo to go with the story. Miller standing in the throwing ring, holding a discus and a photo of Reeves, while Dyer stood in the background looking over her shoulder.
If the story ended there, it would have had everything — a beginning, a middle and an ending. Tears and smiles.
But amazingly, the story that followed made the original story mere prelude.
Miller had decided to go to Indiana Wesleyan to play basketball for one of the top NAIA women’s teams in the country. But two weeks before she was to start college, she was diagnosed with leukemia. It was the start of a whole new story.
The Miller family allowed our Herald-Press photographer, Andrew Hancock, to document BreAnne’s journey through her treatment. We would eventually publish a photo series, including a photo of a smiling and bald BreAnne, but also the more difficult times. During the treatment, she suffered a small stroke and developed histoplasmosis. She continued with her college coursework the best she could, and was kept on the IWU basketball roster, even as Wesleyan won the NAIA national championship in 2007. As BreAnne improved, she even saw some time on the court, but the harsh chemotherapy had taken a toll on her bones and ligaments. She suffered a knee injury that required microfracture surgery.
Miller persevered, and earned her degree in math from IWU in 2010. She was hired at Huntington North High SChool as a math teacher. SHe had penty of support from family and friends during her ordeal, but there was one other person who had quietly been there all along — Derek Dyer.
Dyer had finished up his doctoral studies in Chicago and had returned to Huntington, where he joined his father’s chiropractic practice. Over the years, Derek and BreAnne’s relationship had grown.
In 2011, they were married, and at the age of 24, BreAnne was named as HNHS girls basketball coach, and her doctors determined that she was cancer-free. She only coached for three years, as BreAnne and Derek decided to start a family. Their daughter was born in 2015, and they named her Reeves, after the man that had made such an impact on their lives, and bringing the story full circle.
As a side note, Derek and Bre’s parents were very supportive of me during my time at the Herald-Press, and have remained friends as well. They are wonderful people. Derek and Bre have become two of our closest friends and we enjoying spending time with them, along with Reeves, and her new little brother, Wells.