Jeremy Moorhouse Staff Reporter
December 23, 2013
Myles Wilmoth was a successful computer programmer with Wachovia Bank, but it was a job that left him unfulfilled. Then the company announced that it would be bought out by Wells Fargo, and his department would be eliminated after the merger.
He seized an opportunity to coach junior varsity basketball at Surry Central High School, a place he loves dearly and hoped to get a chance to work. From there, doors started to swing wide open.
Wilmoth’s job with Wachovia ended Dec. 31, 2008, and he found out a math teacher was retiring at Surry Central after the Christmas break that same year. Wilmoth accepted a full-time teaching position that January.
“When I was going to school, my parents, who were both teachers, said, ‘Do something else’, so I got a degree in math,” said Wilmoth, speaking while on the run as usual — headed to watch his daughter Marlee play in the Mary Garber Tip-Off Classic on Dec. 14. “It paid the bills, it was a nice job, but ultimately it was not that fulfilling to me. I felt like I wasn’t adding anything.”
Wilmoth said his work often involved frequent travel, including lengthy stays in Charlotte.
It was time for a fresh start, a change of pace for Wilmoth.
Surry Central High School proved to be the perfect fit.
A 1984 alumnus, Wilmoth was an all-conference basketball player for the Golden Eagles — continuing a strong sports family tradition going back to his grandfather Howard Wilmoth, who played baseball in the 1940s. Myles’ dad Jim Wilmoth played basketball at Central in the 1960s, and is now in the Surry County Sports Hall of Fame.
Myles, 46, attended Surry Community College and then finished up at UNC-Charlotte.
Wilmoth’s wife, Libby, also graduated in 1984. The two both went to UNC-Charlotte, where they started dating. At Central, Libby played basketball, was a cheerleader and placed fourth in the state in the two-mile run as a senior on the track team. She also ran track in college.
The couple’s oldest son, Ethan, is Central basketball’s all-time leading scorer and is playing college basketball at UNC-Asheville. Their daughter, Marlee, is a junior at Central. She is a three-year varsity player in basketball, and also finished fourth in the 2A regional in tennis.
Already passionate about Surry Central athletics, it seemed like it would just be a matter of time before Myles Wilmoth found his way back.
“I was definitely looking for the right place, the right fit for me,” Wilmoth said. “It was almost like all roads led to Surry Central and working with kids. You could say it was a coincidence, but the doors opened as we were thinking and praying about it. I think it was the right place for me to be.
“I ran the Copeland Youth Basketball League for several years and loved doing that. I was there Saturday after Saturday at the Copeland gym as my kids were growing up. I wanted to be around kids. As the basketball job opened up at Surry Central it was kind of a unique situation. Coach (Ken) Eiswald was going to leave and go back to his home in Minnesota. After basketball he resigned, and I interviewed for the head job. During that time (Eiswald) came back, and they asked me if I would be willing to come on as assistant. I was excited to do that.”
In January 2012, the athletic director position became available. Wilmoth said the principal at the time, Kevin Via, told him about the opportunity.
“In January I interviewed for it. Like the coaching position, it worked out,” he said. “I enjoy it, it’s a lot of hard work, a lot of time and energy. I feel like I am contributing, and doing things for the school.”
Wilmoth is certainly no stranger to hard work or overcoming adversity.
At age 4, Wilmoth got his hands on a container of gasoline. He spilled gas in the floor and was severely burned after the fumes hit a water heater pilot light in the family’s Asheville home.
“When they took me to the hospital, they didn’t think I would make it,” Wilmoth said. “Shriners (Burn Institute-Cincinnati, Ohio) paid for the hospital bill. I was there for three and a half months. They told my parents I would never walk again. It was a miracle.”
Fellow Surry Central assistant basketball coach Jeff Edmonds is good friends with Wilmoth, a relationship that goes back to when they were young.
“Our parents knew each other, so we’ve known each other since we were 4 years old. We played together as little kids,” Edmonds said. “(After the accident) he was away for a while being treated. His dad was coaching at A.C. Reynolds. After that happened and Myles got well, they moved back home. Jim was coaching at East Wilkes. In third grade Myles enrolled at Dobson Elementary and we’ve been close friends ever since.”
Wilmoth went back to Shriners every year for treatment until he turned 18. He still has visible scars from the childhood accident. But rather than ignore it or get down about what happened, Wilmoth dealt with the situation up front in a positive, even light-hearted way.
“In high school it was a good way to introduce myself to girls. We’d make jokes about it,” Wilmoth said with a chuckle. “I feel lucky and blessed. People are always taken back because I joke about it quite a bit. I do want to put people at ease. Obviously when people see me, my face is scarred a little bit. It is noticeable. There’s quite a bit of scarring.
“I’m confident in who I am and what I want to do — lead people and inspire them to do big things.”
Edmonds admires the way his good friend and former basketball teammate in high school persevered then and how he handles the situation today. Both players were forwards and captains on the 1984 Eagles team coached by Ron Gordon that finished fifth in what was then the Northwest 3A Conference.
Edmonds recalled seeing Wilmoth in State Road for the first time after the accident.
“His dad and my dad were playing softball. He was wearing a mask, and I remember my mom telling me who he was. I remember sitting with him in the bleachers,” Edmonds said. “As he grew up, he never made people feel uneasy being around him. He would always address it first. He put people at ease, like it was no big deal.
“Myles always took that out of the equation. He always made people feel comfortable being around him. After 30 seconds, you never noticed anything about his appearance.”
One of the things about Wilmoth that cannot be overlooked is his passion for high school athletics and dedication to Surry Central. It’s an enthusiasm that matches that of Duke-Carolina fans in the intense Tobacco Road rivalry or Alabama and Auburn in the annual Iron Bowl slugfest.
Wilmoth is wholeheartedly committed to making students not just better on the basketball court or football field, but building character traits that will last a lifetime.
“I enjoy trying to make sure all of the athletics at Surry Central are first class, top notch, and we are doing that right now,” Wilmoth said. “Sports and athletics just add to the opportunities students have at any school.
“If it means something, you’ll do what you have to do to participate. That’s huge. If you can’t behave out in the street corner, at Sheetz, at the Burger King, you don’t need to be an athlete. I’ve got to be more than a good athlete — be a good person, a good citizen. That’s part of what we strive for. The “Big SC”, parents, alumni, athletes, the band, art club, FFA, agriculture classes, all of those things. It’s the community of Surry Central. If you are more involved in the community, it keeps you involved in the good things.”
The “Big SC” is an effort to incorporate “future Eagles” into the high school athletic experience on game nights. Wilmoth said the impact was evident during football season, when 300-400 kids attended Friday night games. He has taken advantage of the opportunity to utilize social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook to share information about what is going on at the school.
Edmonds has noticed the difference Wilmoth has made since coming on board as the A.D. — with the ripple effects being felt far beyond the school campus.
“Obviously he just injects enthusiasm into everything he puts his hands on,” Edmonds said. “He certainly has in the basketball program, and that has trickled down to all the athletic programs here. His enthusiasm, the way he expresses himself, he’s such a great example for the folks at the school, even in the community.”
Athletic directors have a tireless job that doesn’t begin and end when the Friday night lights go on and off each week. Everything from managing and maintaining the facilities, hiring coaches, budgeting, discipline, purchasing equipment, coordinating travel, scheduling, referees, concessions, the list goes on.
When asked what keeps him going, Wilmoth said, “My wife asks me that all the time.
“You want it to be great for the kids. You want Senior Night to be special. If there is anything we can do to make this something special for the kids, so the athletes are proud of it, and will take ownership and accountability of it. Beyond that, something the community is proud of, something they can come out and support.”
One of the star athletes who represented Surry Central well was Wilmoth’s son, Ethan, the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,732 points. As a senior, Ethan averaged 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists. He was the Northwest 1A/2A Conference Player of the Year, three-time all-conference selection and four-year starter before playing for a year at Fork Union Military Academy.
Wilmoth had the opportunity to share in his son’s many milestones last year, including the game Ethan scored his 1,000th point.
“That was a unique experience. That night was pretty special,” Myles Wilmoth said. “As a coach, it’s sometimes tough because you can’t watch as a parent. But there are moments in the locker room that are just priceless. The exhilaration after a big win, the down times after losing a tough game. To get to experience that with my son, I feel blessed to be able to do that.”
Edmonds, who has three children, including two young boys, was able to go see Ethan Wilmoth score his first points with UNC-Asheville during a game against Charlotte on Dec. 1.
“My kids, the boys especially, just adore Ethan, everything he did while at Central. They think a whole lot of him,” Edmonds said.
Baseball was one area where traditionally Myles Wilmoth and Edmonds went their separate ways. Wilmoth is a lifelong Reds fan, and Edmonds grew up rooting for the Dodgers, who were division rivals for years. Edmonds has since grown to pull for the Reds.
“It made for good rivalry talk when we were younger,” Edmonds said. “We all started making trips (to Cincinnati) as adults. My first trip was 1988. Fun times, kind of a celebration of what he had overcome.”
Although the Wilmoth household cheers for UNC-Asheville, North Carolina State, the Carolina Panthers and the Cincinnati Reds, it’s the small town community and Surry Central High School that dominates the dinner table conversation. Myles Wilmoth worked and lived outside of the area for quite some time, and he is deeply appreciative of the opportunity to be back home.
In January, he will begin his third year as A.D. with the Eagles.
He plans to make the most of it.
“I want it to be a place where the whole community embraces Surry Central,” he said.