SPENCER, W.Va. — It’s been a rough week for Roane County High School Coach Paul Burdette. He’s had to perform his most difficult coaching job ever by trying to find a way forward for his young men who are stricken with grief after the loss of one of their own.
A day after senior wide receiver Alex Miller collapsed on the sideline and died Burdette called his team back together. He wanted nobody alone with so much raw emotion and pain.
“It was so hard to walk back into the locker room knowing there was an empty locker and an empty chair. But we had an amazing meeting and just being together, talking, laughing, and crying together was amazing,” said Burdette.
The meeting concluded with his team walking out of the field house to find the darkened Roane County Stadium ringed by hundreds of community members holding candles and remembering Miller’s life. The difficult healing process had begun. Tuesday, the support poured in from all over the state with simple tributes of people wearing the school colors of maroon and white.
“I must have had 40 or 50 pictures sent to me personally and looking across the social media outlets the overwhelming show of respect and support for our community and for Alex’s family was unreal. It was absolutely humbling,” he said.
Bernie Dolan, Executive Director of the West Virginia SSAC said Tuesday’s outpouring was pure West Virginia at its best.
“One thing about West Virginia that sets us apart is we really care about each other. If you looked on social media, there were hundreds of schools doing things,” he said.
The next step for Burdette and his team will be Saturday’s funeral which promises to be a massive affair. It will be a fitting tribute to a young man who touched so many lives.
“He had been in our weight program since he was in sixth grade. He loved his brothers on the football team. He loved his coaches. He loved football,” Burdette said. “If you had to coach him and he was doing something that needed to change, his response was always, ‘Yes sir.’ It was never anything other than that.”
Roane County fortunately had an open date this week. But, Burdette knows next week, will be another step in the healing process as he brings his team back to practice.
“Just like Alex would have wanted us to do and just like Alex would have done if he was here, we’ll start focusing on Braxton County and getting back to what we do,” he said. “I don’t want them to misinterpret that. I want them to understand they need to get back to living life each day, just like Alex would have done. But that doesn’t mean they need to forget Alex or leave him behind.”