Alumni News

Ron Miller (Ph.D. ’76) lunging into 50th year as UNC’s fencing coach

School of Education alumnus Coach Ron Miller has entered his 50th year as Carolina’s fencing coach.

Miller, who is now the longest tenured coach at Carolina, took a stab at starting a varsity fencing team in 1967. Since then he and his teams have won 1,400 victories.

UNC’s faculty-staff newspaper, the University Gazette, profiled Miller and the founding of the fencing team at Carolina. Miller joined Carolina as a physical education instructor, and when he arrived fencing was a club sport.

Miller described to the Gazette his first meeting with fencing club members:

“I had about 25 people show up, and I said, ‘OK, guys, this is the way it is going to be: ‘We are going to earn varsity status, so you are going to act like a varsity team. We are going to practice. We are going to work hard. We are going to do everything we have to do to make this happen. How many of you want to stay?’

“Three people put up their hands. The rest left.”

But Miller recruited athletes from his fencing class and from pickup basketball games in Woollen Gym. His team earned an 8-1 record and beat N.C. State to win the season-capping conference championship.

The Gazette describes the team’s following successes:

The biggest victory for the program during the 1970-71 season when Carolina began sponsoring fencing teams to compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Over the next decade, Carolina’s fencing team became the dominant force of the ACC, winning eight of the 10 ACC championships when the fencing teams were men only.

That dominance may well have continued, but the men-only ACC tournament was discontinued in 1980 after many ACC schools, including Carolina, stopped sponsoring fencing as an ACC championship sport. The sport’s demise within the ACC was an unintended consequence of Title IX – a 1972 federal civil rights law that requires the proportion of women athletes competing on the sports teams at a university to mirror the proportion of women within its student body.

Even without sponsorship or a formal conference tournament, fencing at Carolina endured. Year after year, Miller’s teams kept competing against – and beating – some of the most elite fencing teams in the country. Then, in 2015, the ACC tournament was reinstated – with a women’s division – after Notre Dame joined the ACC in most sports.

Miller is enjoying his work.

“What makes this job special to me is the fact that the University allows me to do what I want to do, which is to help other people learn how to become more self-sufficient,” he told the Gazette.

What keeps him going?

“It is still fun,” he said.