Carter County Sports Hall of Fame: Miller’s love for officiating leads to Hall of Fame

Published 3:52 pm Thursday, June 9, 2016


Being a sports official has been called a thankless job, but there are not many of them who have done the job better than Elizabethton native Shelby Miller.

The Happy Valley graduate and former Elizabethton City Councilman has won numerous honors for his work as a football, basketball and baseball official, and after 51 years, he will be inducted into the Carter County Sports Hall of Fame later this month.

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Miller, a 1963 graduate of Happy Valley who went on to be a manager at Inland Container, is more known for his side job of being a referee and is more known for football.

Miller received his start in high school, umpiring Little League Baseball in Elizabethton. He has  umpired many well known members of Carter County, including people like Joe LaPorte, Dale Fair, Tim Chambers and Steve “Pink” McKinney among many others.

“I would say 75 percent of the people in that Hall of Fame I refereed their games as a player or a coach,” said Miller. “It’s nice to be recognized. They say a good referee is never noticed.”

Being an official is sometimes not always the safest position to be. In the old days, the local rivalries were much more intense and communities were more passionate about winning.

As a result, officials had to deal with mad fans, which Miller says is all just a part of the job.

“Back when I was younger, I had knives pulled out on me and baseball bats and all kinds of things,” said Miller. “This is my 51st year and I started doing junior high and little league. They needed people to work the games and that’s how I got involved.”

Miller, who graduated at Happy Valley in 1963, wanted to stay involved in sports after his playing days on Warrior Hill were over, so he started officiating.

Fifty-one years later, you have the career of one of the most respected officials this area has ever seen.

Miller has refereed four state football championship games, a boys’ basketball state tournament and a girls’ basketball state tournament.

Miller is mostly known these days for being a first-class football official, having refereed in 38 state playoffs.

Miller was also the District 1 Official of the Year in the early 2000s.

During his career, Miller still found time to be an Elizabethton City Councilman, a Shriner, a Gideon and he along with his wife, Creola Miller, have found time to be actively involved at the First Christian Church in Johnson City.

Many in the West Carter County community know Creola as a former first grade teacher at Happy Valley Elementary School and Principal at Central Elementary and also a professor at Northeast State.

Shelby, though, has a passion for officiating and most of all, for being fair and not showing any bias even if he was referring his own school or own county.

“I feel like I was fair,” said Miller. “I didn’t want to be known as a homer. I always was getting pulled for Greene County games because they thought I was fair.

“When I was selected to do the state basketball tournament games, back then you were voted on by the coaches,” Miller added. “It was an honor.”

Of course this area has several legendary referees with the greatest being Ralph Stout from Mountain City, but there is another one that Miller has been great friends with and has been on his football crew for years and that is Larry Hutchinson.

Hutchinson got his start because of Stout, and he and Miller have been a team for a long time.

They have spent many a Friday from lunchtime to past midnight together, traveling to games, referring the games and coming home and even having a meal in-between.

“I remember referring some of Larry’s basketball games,” said Miller. “We have worked a lot of ball games together.”

The officials in this area seem to take their job very seriously, but also get to know the fans and the media. Most of all, there is a huge emphasis in this District on the rules.

People do complain here of course, but those complaints seem to get louder come playoff time when other regions are doing the games here, and this district travels down the road.

“We take knowing the rules very seriously here,” said Miller. “The last 20 years the rules meetings have been a lot more organized and there is an emphasis on the mechanics and knowing the rules. The supervisors have done a great job emphasizing that.”

Having been a referee almost 80 percent of his life, you can probably say that Miller was born to be an official.

His wife Creola found out 46 years ago that she was going to be an official’s wife and the two have enjoyed it together.

Creola is friends with the officials wives, and she accepted years ago that Shelby was a born referee.

“I told her before we were married that I was a referee, and I am going to be gone a lot,” said Miller. “She’s always washed my referring clothes after the Friday night games and they’ve been ready for me the next day. It’s been a good agreement.”